Issues

Temples unmasked

By Dr Sumit S Paul

Have you ever thought how many thousand schools and hospitals can one construct for the benefit of India’s poor with the gold and diamonds gathering dust in the temples? The recent discovery of a treasure valued at more than 100,000 crore from the secret chambers of Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Kerala has raised vital questions about transparency and asset management. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The shrines, particularly temples in India, are storehouses of enormous amount of gold and moolah. British sub-continental historian Sir Trevor Eliot wrote in his book, “What lured the invaders to India “ (only three copies left: Two at Asiatic Society Library, Bombay and one at The India House, London) that, “ It was the undisclosed money and yellow metal at the Indian temples that attracted the barbaric Muslim invaders from far off Central Asia and the opportunist Brits to this country. And they looted it dry....” Mahmud Ghaznavi came to India 2 times (never 17 times, this is apocryphal and a blatant attempt to tar all Muslim invaders with the same brush) and plundered Gujrat’s Somnath temple because of its mind-blowing wealth. Barring India, all other countries and religions all over the world make the shrine management answerable for the wealth it has. Even in Nepal, the trustees of the famed Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu are bound to submit their yearly report of chadhava (donations). There’s nothing wrong if the devotees offer money, gold and precious stones to the deities but there should be some transparency. Where does this amount go? And why is it not utilised for the welfare of the poor? At the same time, devotees should also think that their offerings ought to have a practical value rather than the naked display of ostentation. A couple of years back, a devotee offered a diamond-studded cellphone to Shirdi Sai Baba worth Rs. 9 lacs because one of his long-cherished wish came to fruition. Great! But is a diamond-studded cellphone useful to Sai? Won’t it languish somewhere in the temple, unless temple management sells it off or one of them pockets it. Because of this huge wealth in Indian temples, there’ve been instances of killing and eliminating concerned people because everyone wants to have a bite of the pie. Government of India cannot force temple management to disclose the amount of jewelleries and other things received as donations. Temples being sacrosanct and a hornet’s nest, no one wants to open this pandora’s box (actually jug). When Nisheeth Saha, the assistant to the legendary archaeologist Rakhaldas Banerjee, who discovered Mohanjodaro and Harappa along with Dayram Sahni and Sir John Marshal in 1921, suggested in 1950 that there was a treasure-trove of hidden gold-coins at the bottom of Orissa’s Konark temple, no one took him seriously and he died, most probably poisoned, soon after that. It’s time, not just this temple in Kerala, but all such shrines like Vaishno Devi, Tirupati and Kamakhya et al must be on the radar of government’s intelligence. God, if at all it does exist, has no (vested) interest in so much filthy lucre.    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 August 2011 on page no. 2

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