The Keezh Tirupati Varadaraja Perumal temple located in Tirunelveli is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It was constructed by Pandya King Veerapandian during the 12th century AD. The temple derives its name from the surrounding area’s abundant red soil, leading to its original designation as Sengani. In Tamil, “Sen” signifies red and “Kani” signifies land. Over time, the name evolved to Sangani.
This temple, however, has remained closed for a month due to the absence of a temple priest, leaving devotees feeling disheartened.
According to historical accounts, Saint Brighu established the deity in this particular spot. An extraordinary event unfolded during the 14th century – the king of Tirunelveli, seeking divine blessings, visited the temple but found the priest indisposed due to illness. The deity assumed the guise of the priest and conducted the pooja, thereby rescuing the priest from potential punishment by the king. As a result, the deity earned the epithet of ‘Vaazha Veikum Perumal,’ which translates to ‘the one who saves.’
In the past, the temple had fallen into disrepair, but thanks to the dedicated efforts of devotees, it was renovated and reestablished a few years ago. The government included this centuries-old temple in its “Oru Kaala pooja scheme”. The “Oru Kala Pooja Scheme” was implemented with the purpose of guaranteeing the daily performance of at least one pooja in temples that lack sufficient funds.
Unfortunately, the priest who had been serving at the temple passed away a year and a half ago. Subsequently, two priests were appointed with a salary of ₹1000, but they were unable to continue their duties as the electricity bill for the temple exceeded ₹2000.
Despite dedicating themselves to serving the deities in temples that are under government control, the priests struggle to make ends meet with meagre wages that are insufficient to provide three proper meals a day. These government workers receive an unfairly low monthly sum of around ₹1000, which falls significantly short of what is required for a decent standard of living, especially given today’s economic conditions.
As a result of such low salaries, many temples in remote areas are managed by a single individual, the priest, who not only performs the rituals but also takes care of the temple’s maintenance. It is evident that the current payment system fails to acknowledge the immense effort and manpower required to uphold the temple’s upkeep.
During his “Free TN Temples” campaign, Sadhguru expressed his concern regarding the inadequate wages received by temple priests.
Coming back to the Varadaraja Perumal temple, it has been closed for the past months and no rituals have been performed for the deity, much to the despair of devotees. People from other towns who visited the temple returned disappointed without being able to have darshan of the deity.
Expressing their concerns, devotees emphasized that despite overcoming numerous challenges to renovate and reestablish the temple, it is now closed without a priest. They emphasized the importance of daily pooja and maintenance of the temple. They called on the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (TNHRCE) officials to engage in discussions with the temple authorities and take appropriate action to address the situation.
In 2020, the HR&CE department has reported to the Madras High Court that among the 44,121 temples under its jurisdiction in the State, over 37,000 temples lack sufficient revenue to employ more than one individual. These individuals often serve as both priests and caretakers. Additionally, it was revealed that 11,999 temples face financial constraints that prevent them from covering the expenses of conducting even a single puja on a daily basis. This numbers must have been increased drastically and now the Varadaraja Perumal Temple from Tirunelveli too joins the list.
According to the statistics provided by the Commissioner of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment, the district-wise income from temples for the year 2020-2021 was documented. The data indicates that the government earned a substantial income from the temples in Tirunelveli, reaching up to ₹1201 lakhs. This includes the income generated by the Varadaraja Perumal Temple located in Tirunelveli, which is now closed with no rituals.
Recently, the devotees condemned the DMK government’s HR&CE Department as Naganathaswamy temple was constructed during the time of Rajendra Chozha I lies in shambles too.
At such a time, we are reminded of what Tamil poet Bharathiyar said a long time ago, “If ghosts rule, the shastras will eat on corpses.”
The temples are currently under government control and managed by individuals who lack emotional attachment to the temple. Consequently, the upkeep of the temples suffers as they are not maintained properly. It is important to understand that a temple is not merely a business entity but the heart and soul of a community. Effective management requires immense dedication and devotion to ensure its proper functioning.