Feature Article

Priests champion revival of HSZ Hindu temples

[TamilNet, Sunday, 10 August 2003, 14:24 GMT]
Mavittapuram temple, Naguleswaram temple and Keerimalai temples all lie within 3km radius within the High Security Zone (HSZ) near KKS harbor. These temples almost completely destroyed during the war in early 90s are being resurrected amid heavy odds by temples’ custodian priests.

Sri Lanka Army (SLA) soldiers at checkpoint at Tellipallai North on Jaffna-KKS road stop all vehicles that proceed towards ‘temple circle.’ Identity cards and passports of the passengers have to be left at the checkpoint, and cameras that otherwise may record the devastation of the hindu temples and the destroyed houses within the HSZ also have to be left with the SLA. A soldier then rides with the passengers in each vehicle.

K. Naguleswara Kurukkal and his wife visit Naguleswaram temple under military escort every day to attend to daily temple poojas. New stone carved deities soon to replace the missing deities within the once majestic buildings lie waiting within the temple premises.

“On the 16th of August 1990 when ceremonial untying of the sacred thread of the Kethara Gowri fast was in progress, Sri Lanka Air Force’s (SLAF’s) Pukara bombers dropped few barrel bombs on the temple. This raid destroyed most of the temple buildings except the inner sanctum where around 1800 devotees who took refuge miraculously escaped unhurt. Only one devotee had his arm severed. The temple was deserted as people left the area after the bombing raids,” said the priest.

According to Naguleswara Kurukkal, only in 1996 after sustained lobbying, he was allowed to visit the temple premises accompanied by the Government Agent (GA), AGA, and SLA commanders. Shrub jungles had entirely consumed the temple grounds, most of the deities had disappeared and the iron safe that contained temple jewels was broken open and the valuables removed. The priest added that Rs.8m that was given to the temple by the Peoples Alliance (PA) government was sufficient only to clear the temple grounds of the accumulated debris and remove the damaged pieces of the building.

“It is difficult to expedite the renovation of the temple as the SLA imposes strict security procedures on the laborers. Harassment of laborers and arbitrarily disallowing laborers to enter even when they possess the required ‘Pass,’ continue to this day and laborers are reluctant to work with temple renovation within the HSZ. Our plan on having the ‘Kumbabishekam (ceremonial opening)’ in January may not materialize,” said the priest.

Similar stories are related by Kandeepan Kurukal of the Mavittapuram temple and Rajan Kurukkal of the Keerimalai temple located within the Keerimalai tank premises. Both priests daily attend to their temples with a military escort to carryout daily poojas. Both priests say that the income generated by the visiting devotees support their livelihood and provides motivation for them to keep the temple activities alive until situation becomes 'normal.'

Expatriate money has helped temples in Northeast, particularly in Jaffna, to project a more prominent presence with substantial colorful additions to the front portels. This together with determined priests who struggle to keep temples in difficult areas to continue to function, reflect a renewed level of cultural integration in Northeast with religion and temples.


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