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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid