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Rediff.com  » News » Government has no claim on Padamanabhaswamy treasure: Shashi Tharoor

Government has no claim on Padamanabhaswamy treasure: Shashi Tharoor

Last updated on: July 11, 2011 17:11 IST

'Hats off to those who didn't squander temple riches'

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With the world wowed by the incredible amount of riches found in the secret vaults of the Sree Anantha Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, member of Parliament from the city Shashi Tharoor spoke to rediff.com's Shobha Warrier about the treasure, what should be done with it and the government's role if any as far as the temple goes.

With the news of riches worth crores being discovered from the cellars of the Padmanabhaswamy temple, Thiruvananthapuram has become a centre of attraction. As its MP, what's your take on the topic which has become a matter of debate?

First of all, I share the joy and excitement of all the people of Thiruvananthapuram on the discovery. This seems to have put us on the world map because journalists from across the globe are coming here. I am getting calls from the New York Times, Time magazine, etc. Even German journalists are coming down to meet the maharaja. There is tremendous excitement in the city. In that sense, it is a matter of pride.

But more importantly, look at the accomplishment of the people who for 300 to 400 years have preserved such a precious heritage without stealing or squandering it. Our country was home to a number of maharajas and nawabs who enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, rather than save resources. Here, in Thiruvananthapuram, we have been blessed -- all these assets have been safeguarded for so many centuries, which in itself gives me great satisfaction.

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Image: Shashi Tharoor

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'Government has no claim on Padamanabhaswamy treasure'

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What next, according to you?

My principle is very simple. First, just as it has been safeguarded for so many centuries, it should be preserved for many more centuries to come. It will be presumptuous of our generation to claim that we are entitled to a stake in the treasure more than our ancestors from 300 years ago and more than the coming generation of the next 300 years. As far as I am concerned, we have no special claim to it. It is by mere accident that the riches have come to light.

Secondly, in my view, pending, of course, the Supreme Court decision, the treasure belongs to the temple. It doesn't belong to anybody else. These offerings, even if by the maharajas, were made to the temple deity and not to the government. So the government has no ipso facto claim on the treasure.


Image: Devotees throng the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple
Photographs: Sivaram V/Reuters
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'Why use only Kerala temple riches for public welfare?'

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What do you say about the ongoing debate on how the assets should be utilised?

The question of how the treasure should be utilised and so on raise a very worrying implication. Because, if people start saying that this treasure must be spent on public welfare, it sounds very virtuous. It is very easy to be charitable when the money belongs to others.

Do you find the argument silly?

It is quite silly because ours is a country with hundreds and thousands of temples, churches, masjids. Is every other religious place in India prepared to give its money for public welfare? If not, why the double standard for this temple?

The entire debate is overlooking the rift it will create between the State and the religious institutions.

What will be the role of the State in this matter?

I don't believe the State has a locus standi in this matter other than the fact that keeping in mind law and order, they are responsibile for the security of the place. It's essential to provide security, otherwise the temple will become a magnetic force for undesirable elements. Therefore, the state government, in my view, is correct to have placed armed guards at the temple.


Image: Media reports suggested that treasures worth Rs 90,000 cr was found in the temple

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'It's not for the media or Left to decide what to do with the riches'

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Will the assets throw some light on the historical, archaeological and cultural history of Kerala?

I personally have no objection to examining the authenticity and value of the assets. Again, that is not for me to say. The decision lies with the temple authorities who own the property, and the Supreme Court that has given the orders so far. I have no particular stand on it except that personally, I will be quite happy to have the historical facts established. The value that we are hearing of is merely speculative. It has been inferred from the weight of the gold and not a systematic, scientific analysis.

It will be interesting to know the value of the riches. Having said that, I don't think in matters involving the temple -- where, as we all know, religious belief and faith are very private matters -- there is much room for political argument.

It is a question of the temple authorities doing the right thing. There are religious institutions which have been able to use some of their resources for social benefits. If Tirupati sets up a university, it is the decision of the Tirupati temple authorities. I don't think it is for the media or the left-wing politicians to decide what is to be done with the assets of the temple.


Image: The treasure trove in Kerala temple includes 1,000 kg of gold coins

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'Build museum in temple to display assets'

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What about the call for having a museum at the temple, which matches international standards?

Personally, I see no harm at all in the argument. As a citizen, I have said a museum within the temple premises should be welcome. After all, it can generate revenue and can be done under safe and secure conditions. Also, a museum can be made in a climate-controlled environment, so that the objects are not damaged.

A limited amount of space within the existing temple compound can be marked out and if the space is not adequate, you can rotate the display. And the revenue generated can be an asset to the temple, and if they wish, it can be used for public welfare. This seems to a much better idea to me than liquidating the assets for secular purposes.

Do you see the area surrounding the temple becoming a world heritage centre?

Even before this treasure was found, those who have visited the Padmanabhaswamy Temple will say that it is one of greatest structures built in India. Whether it has been recognised with an official title or not, I don't know. The entire temple complex, the idol and the sanctity of the place have all made it an extraordinary temple and a heritage site in its own right.

I am sure if the treasures can be put on a meaningful display, it will draw more tourists than it does today and this is in the interest of the city.

In Kerala there's a particular problem, that only Hindus are allowed entry inside temples, which is not the case in most parts of India. As long as that rules exists, Hindus from other parts of India and around the world should be encouraged to come visit.



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'Temple's architecture should not be upset'

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In what way will the temple change the face of Thiruvananthapuram now?

That will depend on a number of decisions to come. First of all, what is to be done with the items? If the Supreme Court asks the temple authorities to keep the treasure in the cellars, the outcome will be different.

Will you be satisfied then?

No, I will not be satisfied. Now that it has been discovered, and the world knows it's there, my personal preference is a display -- a display of the treasure entirely in keeping with the sanctity of the temple without upsetting its architecture. It should not be beyond the capability of the architects to construct a world-class environment to showcase these items.

Have you started reading more about the history of the temple and the Travancore royal family?

I have not done any new reading, but I have read about it in the past. I was aware of the existence of the kallara (cellar), as I have visited the temple as a worshipper many times. When I asked about the iron-barred doors inside the temple corridors I was told that the temple possessions were stored there and that one room was for items used in rituals.

Image: The entrance to the Padmanabhaswamy temple

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