‘Mistaken identity’: HC orders archaeological dept to take control of Salem temple found to be Buddhist shrine

The Madras High Court recently ordered the Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department to take control of a Hindu temple in Salem district after finding that it was originally a Buddhist temple, according to Bar and Bench.

The court passed its order on a report submitted by the Principal Secretary and Commissioner of the Archaeological Department, which concluded that the sculpture inside the temple was clearly a Buddha.

“The mistaken identity cannot be allowed to continue after coming to a conclusion that the sculpture is that of Buddha,” a single-judge bench of Justice N Anand Venkatesh was quoted as saying by Bar and Bench. While the court passed its judgment on July 19, the order was made available on August 1.

The court also directed the authorities to ensure that no Hindu ceremonies were performed in the premises.

The court was hearing a petition by a Buddhist trust, seeking restoration of the contested land and premises, which was under the control of the state Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR & CE) Department. The petition claimed that despite the statue of Buddha being installed in the temple, it had been converted to worship Hindu deity Thalaivetti Muniyappan.

During the hearing, the Tamil Nadu government argued that the premises had been treated as a temple of Thalaivetti Muniyappan for a considerable period of time, and that the people of the locality came to this place for worship. Therefore, the state said, the HR & CE department ought to continue to have control of the place, treating it as a temple.

While rejecting this argument, Justice Venkatesh said that after examining the report, it would not be appropriate to permit the HR & CE department to continue to treat the sculpture as Thalaivetti Muniyappan, as this would go against the very tenets of Buddhism.

(Inputs from Bar and Bench)

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