Madras High Court stays permission for Art of Living event at Thanjavur heritage temple

Brihadisvara temple

he Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Friday issued an interim stay for a two-day event on meditation organized by the Art of Living foundation at Brihadisvara temple in Thanjavur district, Tamil Nadu.

The court directed the Thanjavur district administration to remove all temporary structures set up inside the premises. The division bench directed the district collector and the superintendent of police to submit their replies and adjourned the case till Monday.

Petitioner N Venkatesh contended authorities had erred in granting permission to a person who has already been identified as a violator. The PIL highlighted the Art of Living foundation’s role in damaging the banks of the Yamuna river in 2016 and the subsequent fine imposed by the National Green Tribunal.

Following the court order, the event has now been shifted out of the temple. It will hold the meditation camp at a private wedding hall.

Art of Living found itself in the middle of a controversy after heritage activists and politicians opposed the temporary structure put up inside the temple premises for its programme, “Unveiling Infinity” – a two-day meditation camp that was scheduled on for December 7 and 8.

The Madras High Court order came hours before the event was to begin on Friday evening. Sri Sri Ravishankar of Art of Living foundation was set to preside over a discourse on ‘Kashmiri Shaivism’. However, the foundation met with stiff resistance from heritage experts and politicians.

Experts opposed the big makeshift pandal made of iron sheets which were erected at the temple lawn, a UNESCO world heritage site maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India.

Over 30 members of the Tamil Desiya Padhakaapu Iyakam protested outside the temple on Friday morning demanding that Art of Living’s permission to hold the event at the protected site should be cancelled.

Criticising the move, VCK leader Ravikumar pointed out that ASI rules do not permit any construction within 100 metres of the monument. “If they want to do an event in Thanjavur there are plenty of places. Why choose a protected monument?” He said.

Heritage activists rued the state government’s complicity in granting permission for the event in the first place. “The temple has gone through many parts of history. It has proved itself to be a resilient structure. A crowd of 1,000 people gathering there for two-days will put a lot of stress on the already meagre maintenance resource. It is unfortunate the state government granted permission to an established violator,” historian S Venkatesh said.