What to do with treasures found in Kerala temple?
A national religious council should manage temples and places of historical and cultural relevance to the followers of all Indian religions, says Pramod Kumar Buravalli.
Some well-meaning American friends of mine suggested that the Indian government use the treasure found at the Sri Ananta Padmanabhaswamy temple in Kerala for the welfare of the common Indian.
Some others suggested that India clear off its debts to the World Bank or International Monetary Fund. Many others had wild ideas such as using that money to 'create jobs in India' and hence put brakes on unrestrained 'outsourcing' that was purportedly affecting American lives.
I can buy some of these ideas since all the Americans that I personally know of mean no harm to India or its culture. They in fact respect Mahatma Gandhi and admire the story of Indian economic and social success.Please click on NEXT to read further...
'Vested interests will not let treasures be utilised for the common devotee'
However, I am afraid that politics and vested interests will not let treasures such as (there are many more underneath other ancient structures) the one that is currently being valuated in Kerala, be utilised for the common devotee (or) for the preservation of ancient cultures and traditions of India.
Large institutions like the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam and Shirdi Sai Sansthan are counted amongst the richest religious conglomerations in the world, but they have no global mandate for preservation of dharma and are simply disconnected with the wider cause of conservation.
I am not blaming them at all since they are pawns in the hands of the government! They do great work independently but have no strategic mandate. This problem pervades across the world wherever there are ancient temples that owe allegiance to Indian religions.Some of them are extremely popular and cash rich but are under the control of their respective state governments or quasi government bodies that almost invariably end up diverting the income and treasury for 'populist' electoral measures that have nothing to do with protection, preservation and propagation of religion.
Unfortunate that India's religions are controlled directly or indirectly by governments
India is the holy land of four of the world's largest and oldest religions viz. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. In fact, some of the sites within India are holier than holy to more than 2 billion global adherents of the above-mentioned religions.
However, it is very unfortunate that these four religions, their temples, their academic and service oriented institutions and cultural centers are controlled directly or indirectly by governments or their appointed cronies.
Under the 'influence' of the national policy of secularism and socialism, the government of India chose not to give autonomy to these religious institutions and never once made an attempt to constitute a single apex authority to control their day to day affairs.Like always, I would not want to leave a list of complaints about an issue as complex as government control of religion and heritage centres!
Set up a 'Supreme Indian Religious Council'
Below are some of the collective suggestions that are supported by eminent Indologists from around the world: Make way for the setting up of a 'Supreme Indian Religious Council' consisting of eminent religious personalities and Indologists whose sole aim and mission would be:
* To manage temples and places of historical and cultural relevance to the followers of all Indian religions. If there is a disagreement about a unified body for all the four religions together, then a separate council for each religion can also be considered.
* To grant and implement subsidies and concessions to anyone visiting notified places of pilgrimage within and outside India.
* To build, rebuild or conserve pilgrimage and cultural heritage centers.
* To fund social initiatives particularly concerning education and healthcare.
* To revive Indo-centric schools of thought (like Nalanda and Takshashila) that are well funded and whose mandate would be to study, revive and propagate Indic traditions.
* No government appointed officer should be part of the above council and its institutions. All religious matters (except land and pending criminal disputes) should be allowed to be settled via arbitration overseen by this council.
The deal that no one wants to be broken
In a month from now, all the treasures found in the Kerala temple would have been valuated by a panel appointed by the Supreme Court of India.
Initial estimates are that the treasure runs into tens of billions of dollars making the temple and its governing board (Travancore Devasom Board), one of the richest religious institutions in the world!
My sources tell me that the temple belongs to the royal family of Kerala as part of the deal the Indian government struck with the ancestors of the current royal family during the merger of all the princely states in 1947.According to this agreement, if the temple needs to become part of the state, then the state itself reverts back to the royal family and thus losing its statehood within India! No one wants that to happen, least of all the patriotic royal family of Travancore and every single Keralite.
The Kerala royal family has done a great job
My personal opinion is that the treasure should stay with the Devasom board of Travancore until the time a national level religious council is constituted and becomes fully operational.
The Kerala royal family has done a great job in safeguarding the ancient treasure from pillaging invaders and corrupt politicians.
The royal family is still highly respected and trusted amongst the residents of Kerala because they donated all their riches to the Lord!
It should stay that wayThe author is a member of the Global Hindu Heritage Foundation that works towards the preservation of Indian temples.
Image: Kowdiar palace grounds