The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Jaya lobs court threat at ASI

Chennai, Nov. 6: Adding a fresh twist to the Arunachaleshwarar temple row, Jayalalithaa today announced that she would move Madras High Court to quash the “preliminary notification” of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to bring the temple under its supervision.

A bandh was observed today in Tiruvannamalai to protest against the ASI’s bid to declare the temple — believed to be one of the five primeval abodes of Lord Shiva — a “monument of national importance”.

At a peace committee meeting in Tiruvannamalai yesterday, ASI’s superintending archaeologist K.T. Narasimhan argued that the move would ensure better maintenance and more flow of Central government funds.

The public, however, did not seem convinced with several people wearing black badges and raising anti-ASI slogans. They felt the “take-over” was an affront to their age-old claim to the traditions of the place and had hurt their pride. “We have been maintaining this temple for so long, why should the ASI butt in now'” protesters demanded.

After submitting the preliminary notification stating its intent to declare the temple and its surroundings a protected monument, the ASI had invited objections to the move from residents of the area by November 20.

In New Delhi, Union tourism and culture minister Jagmohan sought to allay apprehensions, saying the ASI’s move did not imply that the Centre was “taking over” the temple but only providing for its repair and upkeep. He also promised to ensure that no change would be made in the administration of the temple or manner of worship.

However, today’s bandh at Tiruvannamalai gave the controversy a serious turn, prompting Jayalalithaa to convene a high-level meeting at the secretariat in which the Hindu religious and charitable endowments (HR & CE) minister and officials also participated. It was decided at the meeting that Tamil Nadu “is totally against the takeover of Arunachaleshwarar temple by the ASI”, Jayalalithaa said.

Pointing out that the temple has been under the control of the state HR & CE department for several decades, she said it had grown in stature because of the “constant and strenuous effort” of the Tamil Nadu government. The temple has become a “religious centre of international importance, more as an abode of faith than as a site of mere archaeological importance”, she said.

Jayalaithaa added that the ASI had not consulted the government before making a unilateral move in this direction. Though the ASI had agreed to provide funds to the tune of Rs 2 crore for maintaining the temple, Jayalalithaa said the state government and the HR & CE department were not found wanting in this regard and could mobilise funds through donations.

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