Kapaleeshwar kovil, Mylapore:
It is an interesting feature to see that apart from this temple being a place for community services and worship of the deities inside, it displays certain boards that speak a lot of religious intolerance. The boards say "non hindus not allowed". Why? Is it that we consider our Gods so sacred that any non hindu will desecrate the idol? What is the exclusivity for, is it that they are more impure than we are? I dont think so. Lets move on.
Shiva temple Chidambaram:
Here no cameras are allowed, the restrictions are more severe than other places. The boards threaten to confiscate electronic equipment if any such attempts are made to remotely photograph the Lord Nataraja inside. Secondly, there is an additional charge of Rs 30 a head to get onto the platform to get a closer view of the Lord. I dont mind paying but are the priests taking care of the cieling frescoes of the Chola period that have deteriorated with time right at the heart of this temple. Forget that, indians never learnt to preserve their past, they only know how to ape the west. Is the outer prakara of the temple maintained and kept clean? Where does all the money go?
Shiva temple Thiruvannamallai:
Here is another example of corruption at its best. In temples you can see the Lord, maybe from a distance but at least you can see Him. Here, you pay 30 bucks to enter into the inner most hall and sanctum, so if you are a staunch devotee and no money with you, you can be sure that only a miracle can get you through to get a glimpse of the Lord.
Shiva kovil, Sirkali:
Its as simple as it gets here. Apart from all the Nadi Jotsyars who hound you at the temple entrance, with their boards and advertisements, the priest of this temple simply couldnt care less. He would look at you and ask, is there a shrine in there at all? It was one of those places where i could get a view of the Lord with my handy cam with absolutely no objections at all!!! The priest didnt seem to have any ownership towards the shrine at all!
Perumal temple Kanchipuram:
I forgot the main name of this temple, its a large vaishnavite temple, orthodox and you pay for EVERYTHING. The kalyanamandapa stands in teh temple courtyard with the tank next to it. Oxygen levels are really low in the water so all the fish swim up, among the worlds plastics floating in the green waters. BUT, to get a view of the inside of the Kalyanamandapa you pay 5 bucks a head to enter an originally airy mandapa which has now been clothed in thick grills, around it such that even a kitten cant seem to get through. So much for preservation of ancient monuments. The indian priest has learnt to just make money on it and not even attempt preserving it.
Shiva temple Papanasam:
The temple falls bang in the way from Tanjore to Kumbhakonam. Its claim to fame is that Lord Rama is supposed to have worshipped 108 lingas within its walls. A very interesting and unique set of lingas catch your fancy in this temple, which is quite unlike other 108 set of Shiva shrines typically found around Shiva shrines. The price to enter this little hall of Lingas is Rs 20 for 3 people and its your tough luck if you show up with a lesser crowd. So the flat payment is 20 whether you have 3 people in your company or not! Interesting. The man with the ticket has a good belly and is loaded with such lethargy that i wonder if the idol gets a daily abhishekam!
Trichy Rock fort:
Gorgeours place and rottenly maintained. Painted all over with additional 21st century constructions that are more of a blotch in the whole canvas. Ticket is Rs 5 or 10 to enter, per head of course and if you do have a handycam or camera, please pay Rs 50, they will make you pay for it higher up, in case you escape the first time. The good side, you get a few books on the temple history in return, the sad side, its all in tamil, so you better know how to read it!
Srirangam Ranganatha temple:
I was attacted and mauled by senile old priests all above the age of 75, who wanted temple donations all in the name of temple maintenance. The nice part is the temple as compare to others is reasonably well maintained. I also didnt mind paying to get a quick darshan given our ever increasing indian population does pose its problems when it comes to crowd management in temples. Photography is not allowed once you cross the outer 3 prakaras of this gigantic walled temple. The good side, you dont pay for photography where its allowed and most of the imperial chola and vijayanagara sculptural art falls in these prakaras so you really dont miss much.
Point of caution: there are a lot of these old priests who sit around the mandapas and catch any unsuspecting pilgrim and tell them to do a few things before they very deftly guide them around the temple and finally take them towards a room which looks like an office where i suspect you will pay handsomely for some so called "prasadam". I escaped it, i suggest you do the same.
Thiruvanaikkaval temple, Jambukeshwara linga, Srirangam island:
Here the same 75 year old senile men, either beg you to pay for a simple arti, or take Rs 150 or so for a promised closer view for which you anyway pay with a ticket at the counter, think its Rs 10 per head. The good side, you get to see the Lord through a grilled window if you dont pay for a clearer view, given this shrine is a little sunken into the earth and can be entered from a side door which leads into a very small chamber that can house a max of 10 people without priests. The disgusting element is the look of corruption and lethargy on the faces of the priests.
Shiva temple Kalahasti, Vayu Linga:
This is totally hillarious, but i will also assure you, if you are a believer of Rahu Ketu and shani and are told to pay Rs 250 to get any Sarpa Dosha's off your head, please do not believe in these. The Kalahsti temple is a complete fraud deal when it comes to blind faith among their rather gullible audience. There are methods to get over doshas of various kinds, including sarpa doshas but that is a prescribed method that is defined by the family Guru and not just paying through your nose to please the Gods. Typically you would be told to light a ghee lamp at the inner Gajastambha on an auspitious day or give a whole packet of Gingerli oil in the sanctum. Yes to get a closer view of the Vayu linga you have to ay Rs 500 to get to the vestibule of the main shrine sanctum. If not its the standard Rs 30 to get a quick darshan, yes! the joys of over population i should say.
Brihadeshwara temple, Gangaikondacholapuram:
Here, free entrance but no cameras are allowed. You can take your camera inside and sincerely tell the authorities that you dont intend taking pictures of anything in the hall, leave alone the garbha griha, but you can sneak a small shot here and there. Is it worth it? well if you get lucky , yes its completely worth it.
So end of all this, should we hindus pay to see the Lord? Should tourists and non hindus who have come crossing oceans to get a glimpse of the shrines to quench their curiosity of Hinduism be denied this pleasure? If yes, how does it hurt us? Should temples force pilgrims to pay up, when there is a rich hat called Kanchi kamakoti peetam sitting there walloping money to pay for extortion instead of maintaining these jewels of architecture? Should money be asked of every thing a devotee asks for be it a coser view, an archana, or any other form of serious worship?
Last but not the least, should temple priests be allowed to use cell phones while they perform pujas , homams and other sacrifices in honor of householders anywhere?
If this is not corruption what is it, and if we keep silent and allow it, how is it going to improve and make a spiritual change to our lives?