High Court clears legal hurdles to Athi Varadar idol immersion

On Saturday, the Madras High Court cleared the legal hurdles in immersing the fig wood idol of Lord Varadarajaperumal, popularly known as Athi Varadar, into the Sri Devarajaswamy Temple tank Anantasaras in Kancheepuram by dismissing two public interest litigation petitions aimed at getting the darshan extended by 48 days.

Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Subramonium Prasad refused to entertain the cases after Advocate General (A-G) Vijay Narayan contended that Courts shouldn’t interfere in matters of faith and religious customs unless and otherwise, the petitioners had established that they could seek an extension of the darshan period as a matter of right.

Assisted by Additional Government Pleader E. Manoharan, the A-G said none but the temple administration alone could decide the duration of the darshan of the idol taken out of an underwater chamber inside Anantasaras once in 40 years.

The decision was taken on the basis of customs and even the Government Could not interfere in it. He submitted a photograph of an old plaque to prove that the idol, weighing more than 600 kg, was taken out of the temple tank last on July 2, 1979, and immersed back on Aug 18, 1979 after a 48-day darshan.

The photograph had been shot by Special Government Pleader M. Maharaja during an inspection of the tank on Court orders passed in another case.

The period of 48 days constitutes one mandalam and the archakas as well as sthanikars of the temple had made it clear that extending the darshan period beyond this would amount to violating the Agama Sastras and established custom. A similar stand had been taken by the Thennachariya Dharishana Sabha too, the A-G told the Court.

During the course of arguments, N. Umapathi, counsel for one of the PIL petitioners, claimed that there had been precedents of changes having been made to the customs followed by the temple. Though the idol was supposed to be taken out of the tank once in 40 years, the management gave a gap of 42 years between 1937 and 1979, he said.

Explaining the reason for such a gap, the A-G submitted that the idol could not be taken out in 1977 due to the temple and its rajagopuram (main tower) being renovated at the time. He said the darshan period was extended from 40 to 48 days in 1979 because 48 days constituted one Mandalam.

The A-G mentioned the inconvenience faced by local residents due to nearly one crore devotees having visited the temple in the last 48 days and the deployment of huge posse of police personnel, apart from revenue and Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department officials, as some of the reasons for opposing the extension of darshan.

In a related development, Justice P.D. Audikesavalu of the High Court on Friday made it clear that water certified to be pure and safe by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) should only be used to fill the 24-feet Anantasaras, as well as the chamber situated at a further depth of 12-feet, to house the idol of Athi Varadar for the next 40 years.

The TNPCB, in its interim report, told the court that samples of water drawn from Anantasaras as well as the nearby Pottramarai Kulam (golden lotus tank) showed that all important parameters such as pH (measure of hydrogen ion), total hardness, iron, residual chlorine and heavy metals were within acceptable limits prescribed for drinking water.

Though the level of turbidity was high due to the presence of suspended particulates, they would settle down once it starts raining, the District Environmental Engineer G. Ramaraj told the court. He said tests were underway to ascertain the biological quality (total coliform) of the water and the results would be available only on Monday.

Hence, the judge said in the meantime, the underground chamber housing the idol could be filled with water drawn from borewells in the temple premises or purchased from packaged drinking water units in the vicinity since it could hold only 25,000 litres, a quantity that could be transported in just two tanker lorries.

A decision on filling the rest of the tank could be taken after obtaining the biological report from TNPCB, he said and adjourned further hearing on the case to Monday.

Though the Judge also wanted to send volunteers from the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) to clean the tank, he desisted from passing such orders at the request of Mr. Maharaja who claimed that 99% of the tank had already been cleaned by government instrumentalities and they do not want to lose the credit for having completed such an herculean task.

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