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

Reports of Mass Murder on Mediterranean Smuggler’s Boat

Boat sailed from Libya with 750 migrants aboard and arrived in Italy with 569 More

Video New Thailand Hotline Targets Misbehaving Monks

Officials say move aims to restore country’s image of Buddhism, tarnished by recent high profile scandals such as opulent lifestyle, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as child sex abuse More

Study: Dust from Sahara Helped Form Bahama Islands

What does the Sahara have in common with a Caribbean island? Quite a lot, researchers say 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.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid