For those not paying attention, on July 2nd, following orders by the Supreme Court, officials from the fire services and Indian archeological dept. entered the inner chambers of the famed Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Kerala. Their aim was to take stock of the various items of considerable value accumulated over centuries in the temple vaults. On the first day itself they found treasure worth more than Rs. 50 thousand crore of gold, jewels and other artifacts of historical value. Five days later, initial estimates suggest that the total value of the items uncovered is close to, and perhaps more than Rs. 1 lakh crore. And that’s WITHOUT taking their historical value into account. Do that, and the amount could be ten times more. This revelation makes the Padmanabhaswamy Temple the richest temple in the world, with the second richest being the Lord Balaji Temple in Tirupati, whose treasures are valued at a little over than 50 thousand crore. It’s a good thing that money isn’t spent on anything wasteful like feeding the hungry and housing the homeless, at least not beyond “reasonable” limits.
Meanwhile, this newfound wealth is being protected, at government expense, with public money being used to deploy metal detectors, alarms and sensors, and for round-the-clock security. So whose wealth is it again? Why, the temple’s of course! It’s the law, after all. According to the Treasure Trove Act of 1868 (good thing they keep up with the times!), the wealth cannot be used for public purposes. It’s not public money you see, it belongs to the temple, donated over centuries by local kings, who in turn got it, one assumes, by taxing the pub.....but, let’s not get into technicalities here. It belongs to the temple, who, one is sure, would use it in the most responsible and socially conscious manner, like any other institution with lakhs of crores in the coffers and no regulation on how to spend it.
And why are we thinking in base monetary terms? Some of the artifacts recovered include items of priceless historical value, artwork thousands of years old. Surely one cannot suggest they be sold to individuals buyers for base cash? They SHOULD remain at the temple, where Indians can go and look at them and just a little bit closer to the history of our great nation.....as long as they are practicing Hindus. Oh wait! Silly me, I nearly forgot. Even THEY can’t go look, because in the temple, the treasures would be locked away in vaults for a thousand years more. But to suggest they be housed in museums where they can actually be appreciated by people from ALL walks of life and ALL religions...why that is completely preposterous!! For one thing, it would mean the temple would have absolutely NO direct control over those old, historically significant, but most importantly, really really valuable artifacts anymore. For another....well...did you see the first thing?!
Frankly I am surprised there is a debate over this. In a nation that routinely steps over the starving and the sick on its way to pouring milk on idols, in a nation where every tenet of every religion is venerated, except for the common ones of piety and humility and peace, in a nation where people see god as a petty government official to be bribed with gold and money and jewels, I am surprised that there are SOME sane voices claiming the huge hoard of wealth be used to fill the bellies of our 650 million poor with something other than spirituality. Those voices will probably not win, at least not in the next few generations, because even those they fight for have been taught to believe that suffering and sacrifice in the real life they lead today will lead to freedom and peace in the imaginary next one. Taught by people who themselves have enjoyed the best luxuries society has to offer, of course, but that has been explained away as their right, because they are closest to god. So I have little hope for humanism and reason to emerge victorious now, but someday, I hope to see people realise that their god has no need of their wealth, but its the people who want to control them in the name of god who do.