News / Asia

India's Supreme Court Deliberates Fate Of Temple Treasure Worth Billions

Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, India, July 05, 2011
Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, India, July 05, 2011

Multimedia

Kurt Achin

India's Supreme Court is deliberating the fate of a massive treasure trove recently made public at an ancient Hindu temple - riches that the man who brought the case says should be turned over to the local state government. But beneath the glitter of the treasure is a history of royal religious devotion, and a security challenge requiring cultural sensitivity.


These officers carry a sidearm just like any other cop.  But they hide it discreetly under the traditional garb of a Hindu pilgrim.  A blue shawl clearly identifies them as enforcers of the law.

Night and day, they work with heavily-armed commandos to guard an extraordinary temple in the south Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram, in Kerala state.

The temple's vaults were opened recently in the course of an ongoing legal inquiry into its management.   They contain a dazzling treasure of gold, antiquities, and precious stones probably worth tens of billions of dollars.

Most of the world has seen none of it.  Although India's Supreme Court has ordered a video inventory of the treasure to take place at some point, for now, religious sensitivities continue to prevent any kind of video or still images from being taken inside the temple.

Police Commissioner Manoj Abraham has been responsible for massively upgrading the temple's security, practically overnight.  He is the one who ordered the design of those culturally-sensitive police uniforms.

"We had to have a balance between the religious feelings as such, and the gun-toting police who stay inside," said Abraham.

When the vaults were opened, local leaders were as stunned as the rest of the world to learn of the extent of the temple's wealth.

"Everybody [knew] that there is wealth," said Oommen Chandy. "But not up to this amount."

Oommen Chandy is the chief minister of Kerala.  He brushes aside suggestions made by some that the wealth should be used for public purposes.

"It is better to keep the wealth at the temple itself," he said. "This belongs to the temple."

Non-Hindus are not allowed in the temple - a dramatic and intricate structure, decorated with scenes from Hindu scripture.

Inside is a six-meter-long gold statue of the divinity for whom the temple is named: Sree Padmanabhaswamy   It's another name for Vishnu, whom Hindus name "the protector."  He reclines between Brahma, the creator... and Shiva, the destroyer.

Rain or shine, Swami Durganand Saraswati has come to the temple every day for 25 years to conduct public teachings.

To him and other faithful, there is no question about who owns the wealth.

"It is owned by the deity, Padmanabha Swamy," said Swami Durganand Saraswati.

The historical stewards of the temple are the royal family of Travancore, who once ruled this part of India.  And the heir to that lineage, Marthanda Varma, says the wealth should stay right where his ancestors kept it safe.

"Let it continue.  What's the hurry? ...There's no harm in letting things be as they are," said Marthanda Varma.

Now 90-years-old, the royal heir would even prefer that the wealth not be exhibited or photographed.

In 1750, the Travancore royal family formally declared itself to be servants of Padmanabha, essentially setting up the deity as the formal ruler, and transferring their wealth to temple.

Some researchers maintain that decision blurred the lines between religion and state.  Professor K.N. Panikkar, vice chairman of the Kerala Council for Historical Research, says the public has the right to examine the treasure for clues about the past.

"This is a legacy of the state - and a rich legacy of the state," said Professor Panikkar. "It's not a religious legacy.  I mean, I can look upon it as a secular legacy.  And in that sense, everyone should be able to see that and appreciate that."

Still Shashi Tharoor, who represents the local area in India's national parliament, says there are big-picture reasons the government should tread lightly when it comes to the temple treasure.

"There are literally hundreds of thousands of temples, churches, mosques in our country," said Tharoor. "If we were to feel that the state had any claim to an asset, or even a percentage of the assets of one temple - what does that precedent mean for every other religious shrine in this country?"

A unique feature of India's legal system is that a deity can actually be regarded as a legal entity.  The country's Supreme Court is considering that and more as it determines how the wealth should be managed.

You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid