The Andhra Pradesh High Court on Tuesday expressed its disapproval over a state government memo issued by the Endowments Department, with regards to providing temple honours to Swami Swaroopanandendra Saraswathi, the pontiff of Visakha Sri Sarada Peetham, on his birthday on Wednesday. The HC was hearing Public Interest Litigations (PILs) filed by three individuals from Hyderabad, Vijayawada and Tirupati, objecting to the memo. The memo was issued on November 12 from Endowments Department Additional Commissioner K Rama Chandra Mohan to 23 temples in the state, forwarding a letter from the peetham requesting temple honours for the seer, and asking the temple officials to â€śtake necessary actionâ€ť.
The memo drew flak from several quarters including the opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP). TDP leaders alleged that the move displayed favoritism on Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddyâ€™s part towards Swami Swaroopanandendra. TDP leader Yanamala Ramakrishnudu had said that while Jagan is free to spend his own money on the birthday celebrations, using government funds to do so is an abuse of power.
Hearing the PILs against the memo, a division bench of Justice Rakesh Kumar and Justice Umadevi objected to the content of the memo. The bench asked if the government would respond in a similar manner if a person from any other religion made a similar request.
The petitionersâ€™ counsel argued that the government must not interfere in religious matters and that honouring one religious leader would mean neglecting other religious leaders in the state. Advocate General S Sriram said that the memo issued to temples by the government did not exactly order temples to provide the honours. He also noted that several heads of similar peethams or mutts have received temple honours in the past.
Appearing on behalf of the peetham, senior advocate SS Prasad said that the peetham was withdrawing its original request letter to the Endowments Department, as they do not want any controversy. The letter, written on November 9, sought â€śtemple honoursâ€ť from 23 temples, including the Antarvedi temple in East Godavari, the Kanaka Durga temple in Vijayawada, Srikalahasti, Kanipakam, Srisailam, Ahobilam and other prominent temples, through official temple staff and head priests, for the pontiffâ€™s birthday.
With the request letter withdrawn, the HC said that the memo was void, disposing of the petitions.
The Sarada Peetham issued a statement on Tuesday, saying there was â€śunnecessary controversy and false propagandaâ€ť over Swami Swaroopandendraâ€™s birthday celebrations. Stating that the pontiff has strived to take the Hindu religion across the world, the statement said, â€śSince 2004, every year, he has been receiving offerings and clothes from temples as a tradition. To continue this tradition, temple honours were requested this year as well. If anyone has objections to this, we will accept them.â€ť
CM Jagan is known to meet Swami Swaroopanandendra Saraswathi often, and reports suggest that Jagan often discusses key political matters with the religious leader and seeks his advice on important issues. The TDP had alleged favouritism on Jaganâ€™s part, questioning why such honours had not been sanctioned for other Hindu religious leaders like Jayendra Saraswathi Shankaracharya, the former pontiff of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham and Chinna Jeeyar Swamy, another prominent spiritual guru.