WASHINGTON, DC, July 11, 2011 (by Aseem Shukla, co-founder of HAF, for the Washington Post):
India as a land of stunning contradictions is as much a tired cliche as it is true. But what to make of the priceless treasures? Why would the government demand that the vaults of the private Padmanabhaswami temple be opened? And what to do with a bounty suitable for the Gods? In these questions lies a potent commentary on the vagaries of Hindu life in India today.
In a bid to define a very idiosyncratic version of secular democracy, India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, placed the most prominent Hindu temples under government control by appointing the boards that administer them. So while Hindus do not actually control many of their temples, churches and mosques enjoy freedom from any government interference. This inconsistency was exploited by the Supreme Court of India, that could then claim authority to force the long hand of big brother into the most sacred depths of a temple and force open its vaults.
The 16th century Padmanabhaswamy temple was preserved by the erstwhile royal family of Travancore, now part of the southern state of Kerala, for generations, and it was they who placed their own royal assets into the temple in their faith that the Deity of the temple is actually the legitimate ruler of their kingdom. While the gifts to their patron Deity had a pragmatic dimension for the royals since the assets could be used in time of crisis, such as famine or war.
Not surprisingly, socialist leaders in India are calling for the temple wealth of an estimated 22 billion dollars, that may amount to as much as the entire annual education budget for India, to be summarily sold off with the money distributed to the millions of the nation's poor. Of course, if temples could be pawned off so easily, churches and mosques--perhaps even the glittering gold lining Sikhism's holiest shrine--would be next? Should the Sistine Chapel be sold to bail out Italy's sovereign debt crisis? Hindu shrines receive no government subsidies for their maintenance, and the idea of India's notoriously corrupt government confiscating their treasure is thankfully anathema to most observers.
S.P. Sabharathnam, one of the foremost scholars of the Agamas based in India, explained to me that the Mulakosa Bhakta Vivarana (Allocation of the Divine Treasure) chapter specifically enjoins that the treasures should be held, but the interest accrued can be used for worldly needs ranging from preservation of that temple and other temples in need to feeding of devotees and the poor and creating schools for preservation of Vedic and general studies. Follow the words of the ancients, and such a move could revitalize the temple and address the urgent needs of many lesser known Hindu institutions decaying in the face of weak governing boards and government neglect.
The story playing out in south India must end well for that temple, as the stakes are as high as the valuation of the gold. Perhaps the temple will some day display a sampling of the wealth that characterized the Indic civilization at its zenith and that was plundered and looted by successive invasions that defined the last millennium until the British colonialists left in 1947. Perhaps the jewels of India can someday be seen in India without having to visit the Tower of London.
(read the full article at the source, linked above.)