India’s temple wealth in unsafe hands…
First published on Times of India on 8th July 2011 http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/tiger-trail/entry/india-s-temple-wealth-in-unsafe-hands
The first fleeting thought that came to me when the colossal donations to the Ananta Padmanabhaswamy temple were recovered in Thiruvananathapuram was, “ Why oh why were they ever found?” The wealth of the temple had survived all these years that have encompassed unscrupulous foreign invasions but it is only now that the real worry begins, the internal invasion. Will the wealth that belongs to the presiding deity of Thiruvananthapuram, which literally translates into the sacred abode of Lord Anantha Padmanabha, be unassailable? As a popular tweet read “ It took centuries for the Temple to accumulate in excess of 1 lakh crore of wealth and a couple of years by the UPA Government to loot the exchequer of the same value”. True.
Everyday the valuation of the donations to the temple is increasing in denominations of astronomical proportions and it almost appears that the donations by themselves are now invaluable (in every sense) largely due to their antiquity. The temple is now said to be the richest in the world. The current estimate of the wealth is in the range of $25 billion USD and can only but increase from here. There have been suggestions of creating a museum to display the donations and security for the time being around the temple premises would be adequately beefed up. But, will only the left over wealth be put in a repository and only the left over wealth be protected?
There are already ownership issues being thrown in with various parties elbowing each other in trying to portray themselves as the able custodian of the wealth. The Temple has been in the custody of the Trust of the Royal family of Travencore and is under control of this private Trust. The source of the donations are said to be heterogeneous. Some historians claim that the donations came directly from the Royal family members, pilgrims and traders whilst some claim that gifts, bribes and wealth of states seized via conquests were kept in the vaults. Whatever be the source of the wealth, the wealth now belongs to the presiding deity at the temple and the valuations must be made transparent to the public. There could be much that may have happened between the times that the five vaults have been opened and when the Supreme Court has recently issued a directive that the unearthing process be filmed. We do not know what really transpired in the last few days up to this point. And probably never shall. There is one more vault yet to be opened, the sixth one that lies beneath the sanctum sanctorum of the presiding deity and immense speculations have been raised about it’s contents.
My cynicism about the safety of the wealth stems from a couple of reasons. Firstly, the Government of India is not capable of preserving and safeguarding historical wealth fully. Historical wealth does not necessarily come only in the form of diamond studded figurines, gold coins and precious gems but also in the form of some of the ancient relics that stand in our great civilization. I had visited the most historical temples in Tanjore a few days back and was appalled at the condition of the same in certain sections of the complex of the splendid Brihadeeshwara temple. The Brihadeeshwara temple (now a UNESCO site), an awe inspiring 1000-year-old temple that was built by the great Raja Raja Chola I has the historical Tanjore paintings on the temple walls covered by scribbles from present day lovers. There is urine stench at the main entrance, the ‘Keralathangan Tiruvayil’ and broken gates securing the countless Shiva lingas. Nevertheless, it is because of the magnificent architectural and engineering brilliance of the Chola Kingdom alone which comes to good stead today instead of our grand preservation techniques. Secondly, the corrupt system which is filled with highwaymen in the guise of Ministers, bureaucrats and Government officials would move mountains to usurp temple wealth by ensuring that they are a part of it’s management and control. They will invariably make a beeline to be amongst the managing trustees. Thirdly, the accounts and audit of Temple wealth is shrouded in secrecy making it more difficult to track inventory of temples.
Take the case of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams whose biggest benefactor has been the noble Krishnadeva Raya of the Vijaynagar Empire who donated priceless jewellery to the Lord of Tirumala. Some of the antique jewellery used to adorn the Lord has today just vanished into thin air and the official reason cited is that the antique jewellery has been remade into new ones. A preposterous reasoning that could please only cockeyed senses. Temple treasures of India can never be in safe hands unless and until there is more transparency introduced into its management. I doubt this is likely to happen anytime soon. If the wealth of ordinary and tangible mortals can be looted in a flash, it appears it is a breeze to loot the wealth of the intangible and the immortal more easily.
This entry was posted on July 11, 2011 at 10:11 pm and is filed under Social, Tiger Trail, Times Blogs, Times of India, Travel with tags Anantha Padmanabhaswamy temple, Indian temples, Tirumala Tirupati. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.