I have recently been to more Buddhist Temples, and met the Chief Priests at Temple and at our offices, than the rest of my life before that. I would like to share some of my experiences as far as the development of the temple premises and related enhancements is concerned.
Firstly, I observed that it is essential that the lay council, namely the Dayaka Sabha and the Chief Priest work together. Often the Chief Priest makes sure that the key members of the Dayaka Sabha are on the same wavelength of the Priest. The Chief Priest then draws up a plan for the expansion of his temple as far as the buildings and places of worship are concerned, and with the help of the laymen draft a plan, together with the costs for all the relevant constructions.
They work together to collect the funds necessary. Each temple in that sense is very autonomous in their individual ambitions. I have met many priests who come with very grand plans and are the chief fundraisers for their temples. They tap politicians from all parties for funds, and despite their personal political opinions do not fear who they ask for donations. Just today a priest noted that he was collecting the funds to buy the land adjoining the temple for Rs10M.
Naturally the wealth of temples varies, with some of the most wealthy having the grandest plans to become even bigger. I have seen many a temple that has its origins in a kamatha (threshing floor) near the paddy fields, which eventually get filled up around without anyone questioning the legality of the deed. The word “vele pansala” is synonymous with these temples, which in a strict legal sense are illegal constructions that no one dare question!
The size of the temple is no determinant on the spirituality of the place. However the need to grow seems to be universal. The donations carry with it some merit, and many people contribute to these projects with that aim and untold amounts are spent on buildings. Once built, they need maintenance, which include periodic painting and the high cost of electricity and other needs such as maintaining a vehicle, which then have to be met from donations yet again.
I note that there is unchecked and unregulated growth of buildings in temple premises, which no one dare attack, as either illegal or unwarranted, and so these take a life of their own. The lands occupied by temples are now extensive, and growing, with little overseeing by the Government on how each temple is managed. They do not form part of one overall body that manages them.