An incident involving the distribution of ‘vibhuti’, or sacred ash, packets featuring Mother Teresa’s image at the Arulmigu Arunachaleswarar temple in Tamil Nadu’s Tiruvannamalai sparked controversy and led to the suspension of two archakas on May 2. Joint commissioner Kumaresan ordered the suspension of the archakas for six months, citing their actions as disreputable to the temple and the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department.
Archakas Somanathan and Muthukumarasamy reportedly distributed the ‘vibhuti’ packets without the temple administration’s knowledge or permission. During the festive Chithirai month (mid-April to mid-May), the renowned Annamalaiyar temple draws thousands of devotees from across the state. Sources said well-known garment manufacturer Mathew Garments sent the temple the controversial ‘vibhuti’ packets, which bore Mother Teresa’s image on one side and the company logo on the other, sparking outrage.
Upon learning of the incident, Hindu Munnani leaders demanded swift and stern punishment for those responsible, alleging it was an attempt at conversion. Kumaresan subsequently conducted an investigation and suspended the two archakas for six months, barring them from entering the temple or performing any rituals during this period. An anonymous staff member explained, “They distributed the ‘vibhuti’ packets, which were given with good intent. But Teresa’s image on the cover — not the distribution — was the problem. Many other businesses offer the same service, but their packets will not include any pictures.”
It is customary for donors to fund or sponsor Vibhuti packets for distribution to temple visitors.