Gen. John Monroe, British Resident Travancore Princely state openly misused Hindu temple administration!!

In the  temples of Kerala enshrined are the idols of deities that  serve  as holy places of worship where individuals make sacred covenants with God. For centuries they have served as the centers of the rich culture of kerala.  The ritual folk performing arts or folklore like Theyyam, Kothamooriyattam, Kanyar Kali, Malavayiyattam,etc were groomrd around the temples and they partly represent the ethos of this state.

Dedicated to Lords Vishnu, Shiva, Ayyappa and other deities some of the temples date back to the 10th century and beyond as confirmed by the works of the Tamil Azhwar  and Nayanmar SaintsIn the Madras presidency in 1836  Religious Endowment Act was passed  to transfer  the control of Hindu temples to the local management committees. Temples under the HR&CE act of 1927, it was alleged, faced certain allegation regarding temple management. Thus stage had been set in Madras Presidency by the British to interfere in the administration of Hindu temples across the land. 

Gen John Munro (1778 –January 1858
In the state of Travancore and other places the Maharajahs ran the temple administration directly or indirectly and the temples flourished in their period. When the British arrive in Kerala, they had their eyes set more on the temple properties than on the temples themselves. Because of their illegal interference into the internal matter of temples, there were many protests by the natives led by various local chieftains and  heads.  The fate of Hindu temples in Kerala was pushed into more chaotic and difficult situation with the appointment of colonial administrator John Monroe. Though his social reforms need appreciation, his overstepping on the Hindu religion and temple properties, and his too much zeal for Christianity leading to the transfer of properties to the Christian establishments  had sullied his image

Hindu temple, kerala style,

Hindu temple,

The appointment of Colonel  John Munro  as the  Resident and Dewan in the princely state of Kerala Dewan (1811) was  a disappointing one,  his long tenure was one of chaos and biased. He was more interested in firming up the grip of the English company on the  rich, fertile state than doing his customary duty, creating a proper link between the presidency and the ruler. He was neither interested in the culture of Travancore  nor in the progress of the state.  His certain commendable social reforms were relegated to the back by his overbearing attitude and unwanted interference in the state administration and Hindu temple affairs.

The following are some of the unethical acts done by John Monroe and their repercussions during his tenure in Travancore

Having set his eyes on the large revenue generating  Hindu temple properties and wealth in the state,  Monroe's motive was to bring them  right under the umbrella of the state; it meant it was a  vast source of revenue for the state treasury. 

He finally succeeded in convincing  the queen of Travancore to bring the  management of temples and  properties under her control. His intention was quite clear;  subsidiary alliance fees due to the company  from the state would be paid without any hitch.

Despite invocation of  Melkoima rights enjoyed by the Maharajah  Resident, Munro in 1811 put the Hindu temples under the direct control of the state and the income from temples became  part of state government's revenue.  It was done not under state law, but certain rights the ruler had enjoyed for centuries. 

In the name of the state, Monroe   declared that  62000 acres of Kara (Garden land/ Punjai in Tamil) & 548000  acres of Nilam (Nanjai)  owned by the Hindu Temples in Travancore would be under the government, facilitating additional revenue of roughly Rs. 150000 for the state.  

In the aftermath many dawasthoms were taken over by the government on the advice of the Resident.

That the  Queen of Travancore had to act to the dictates of the British Resident  using the powers vested on her over certain temples was unfortunate.  An attempt was made by the British to separate the traditional association of the native Hindu communities  from their source of income  and land. 

According to temple records (Thirattu) of 1811 showing audited account (revenue and expenses) - 348 major and 1123 minor Devaswoms had been transferred to the state along with their landed properties, income, etc. The latter were considered as as Pandaravaka (government property) and the hereditary trustees -  Ooralars  had to come up with higher revenue regardless of vagaries of weather and climate.   were coerced to increase Temple revenue. After  a few years of his services Monroe saw to it the state of Travancore  cleared the pending fees  due to EIC under the  subsidiary alliance.

Yet another blunder  indirectly imposed on the seized temple lands through the ruler was The Proclamation of 1865. It gave the holders of pandara pattom (government revenue) lands certain rights that won' change or weakened. 

With most of the the Devaswom lands were revenue lands the holders of pandara pattom had an advantage due to   fixity of tenure and proprietary rights.  Periodically surveyed like the govt. lands   the holders got a proprietary interest in it Earlier, they  could take the land on lease and  nominal mortgage rights. 

In the wake of  taking away the revenue from the temple lands, There was  no income to conduct regular pujas or rituals. 

Performing arts schools associated with temples for centuries drastically declined. It impacted the local culture and the unbroken ritualistic tradition  Reason: lack of funds.

Yet another disgusting move by the British under John Monroe was wonton diversion of revenue from the temple lands  to the activities of the missionary and the schools run by them. 

The  temple lands including paddy fields and vast track of wooded areas were transferred to the Christian missions which   generated vast income from agricultural lands as well as plantations.  This helped them  spread Christianity far and wide.  In the recent past the same trend is going on near Sabarimala, etc  and the missionaries are colluding with the local communist  leaders who have political clout. 

Running Annadhana centers - serving free food  was  part of the temple activities as a sort of public service. With almost no  income in the early part of 1800 to early 1900s s  the number of  Oottupura (Place for serving food) attached to Hindu Temples reduced to less than half.  

Toward the end of 1800 and early 1900, there was massive conversion in Travancore state and elsewhere. Certain missionaries, taking advantage of income from the former temple lands, openly got involved in alienating the so called low class people and converted them into  Christianity by cleverly  manipulating their caste factors and penury,  enticing them with free education, etc.

It was Resident/ dewan John Monroe who, without any remorse created chaos among  the communities in Kerala, suppressed the Hindu population in a subtle manner,  took over the temple lands and favored certain mission establishments.

 Though it is often said that the church and the state are different, the British in India never followed it. Being in power for three  centuries, they had a bias toward the missionary activities particularly, in the southern states. The British wanted a strong Christian base to support them. But their approach failed miserably. 

Religion has become a subject of debate  and an eyesore, primarily because of vote-bank politicians whose aim was to have political power and clout. To them religion is nothing but flotsam. Present day politicians, stepping into the shoes of John Monroe, follow his dictums in  letter and spirit. To  them being in power is more important than the progress of the people and the nation,. If the society is more divided on the basis of caste and religion, the more they can reap; so are the zealots of religion.  In secular India, with  80 to 85 % of the population are Hindus, their places of worship  are specifically marked out for government control because  the party in power wants to divert the funds to the government where it is mismanaged or siphoned out, leaving the temple uncared for. (this post is based on the following references).