The Madras High Court was hearing a plea by the Buddha Trust in Salem, which said that the idol was originally that of the Buddha, but over time it was taken over and was worshipped as that of Thalaivetti Munniappan.

The idol in Salem temple which Madras High Court said is of the Buddha, not Hindu deity Thalaivetti MuniappanWikimediaCommons/RAJUKHAN-SRRAJESH
news Court Tuesday, August 02, 2022 - 10:45

The Madras High Court has declared that the statue of the main deity at a temple in Salem district is that of Buddha and not a Hindu deity. The idol in the temple is currently being worshipped as Thalaivetti Muniappan. The High Court was hearing a plea by Buddha Trust, based in Salem, who had filed a petition in 2017 saying that the idol is of the Buddha. Taking cognisance of a report filed by the state archaeological department that a preliminary inspection has revealed that the statue of the Buddha, Justice N Anand Venkatesh has ruled that the idol is indeed originally that of the Bhuddha.

The High Court was hearing a plea by the Buddha Trust in Salem, which stated the statue inside the temple located at Kottai Road in Salem district’s Periyeri Village is that of Buddha and it has been worshipped by the followers Buddhism for many years. However, over a period of time, the Trust said in the plea, statue has been converted into one of Hindu deity and being worshipped by the Hindus. In the earlier hearings, the High Court had asked the Principal Secretary and Commissioner of the Archaeological Department, Tamil Development, to conduct a survey and inspection of the idol at the temple. 

The report by the archaeological department has found that the idol was that of the Buddha, the High Court noted in its order dated July 19, which was made available on Monday, August 1. 

The High Court noted in its order that an archaeological team inspected the idol on July 28, 2021, and the iconography on the idol was found after the kunkuman and sandalwood paste had been cleaned off the idol. “The figure was in a seated position known as ardhapadmasana on a lotus pedestal.The hands are posed in ‘dhyana mudra’... The head shows lakshanas of the Buddha such as curly hair, ushnisa and elongated earlobe.” The report further concluded that the idol depicted several mahalakshanas (“great traits”) of the Buddha.

“After inspecting the sculpture and carefully examining the available archaeological and historical evidences at our disposal, the Committee collectively expressed their opinion that the sculpture depicts several mahalakshanas (great traits) of the Buddha,” the report cited in the HC order states. 

The High Court said that now that the archeological department has found that the idol is that of the Buddha and not a Hindu deity, “the assumption of the HR & CE Department that it is a temple is no longer sustainable and the control must go into the hands of some other authority.”

“After having received such a report, it will not be appropriate to permit the HR & CE Department to continue to treat this sculpture as Thalaivetti Muniappan,” Justice Venkatesh wrote in the order. “The mistaken identity cannot be allowed to continue after coming to a conclusion that the sculpture is that of Buddha.” 

The High Court then ordered the HR&CE department to restore the idol to its original form. The court has also given a directive that a board must be put up at the temple stating that the idol inside is that of the Buddha. “The general public can also be permitted to visit the place and it shall be ensured that no poojas or other ceremonies are allowed to be performed for the sculpture of Buddha,” the order says.

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