Tuesday, 13 September, 2011

Sri Padmanabha Swami Temple, Thiruvananthapuram and the future of Hindu temples in Bharat

Issues before the Hindu society in light of the Supreme Court stand and the ‘Deva Prasnam’ (‘Jyothisha Vichara’)

Introduction

Sri Padmanabha swamy temple has historical as well as puranic importance. Historically, Marthanda Varma, the then ruler of travancore surrendered himself, his heirs and kingdom to Sri Padmanabha and became ‘padmanabha dasa’(servant of sri padmanabha). This tradition is maintained even today. The first Temple Entry Proclamation (allowing Hindus belonging to all castes inside temples) was made in this temple.

Sri Padmanabha swamy temple finds mention in more than three Maha Puranaas. It is one of the most important of vishnavite shrines.

But some recent disturbing developments concerning this sacred temple will have far reaching impact on every temple in India, and also could lead to interferences in the customs and rituals in temple all over India. It could even lead to a situation where any court could directly interfere in the religious rituals of any temple.

Present Situation

The Supreme Court of India having ordered the inventory and scientific evaluation of the wealth in the chambers of the temple has opened a Pandora’s box. The wide publicity regarding the value of the temple wealth running in to lakhs of crores of rupees has brought in the international attention with the risk that the anti Hindu forces are already at work to snatch this wealth.

In the situation the H’ble Supreme Court’s action in ordering the inventory & scientific evaluation of the wealth inside the temple chambers has in effect given legitimacy to the following:-


1) This action of the Supreme Court has set a bad precedent with regard to interference in the rituals of Hindu temples all over India.

As per Hindu Temple aacaaharaas within the ‘ pancha praakaaraa’ starting from “PRAASAADAM” (Garba griha) to “GOPURAM” (temple tower) are directly connected with the temple rituals. All the rituals within the ‘pancha praakaara’ are under the direct supervision of the temple thantri (temple acharya), pujari, kshethra adhikaris, and devotees. Over and above this there is the centuries old custom of conducting ‘Deva Prashna’ to know ‘ Deva Hitha’ (Likes & dislikes of the deity).

The Supreme Court constituted a team for opening the vaults situated near the innermost ‘praakaara’ (garbha griha) of the temple and take their inventory without giving any consideration to the above mentioned customs and rituals of temples. The Supreme Court seems to have dealt with this matter without much thought on the ‘purity’ aspects attached to temples and temple customs and rituals, and seems to have taken a casual approach as if it were a jeweler shop. This was the first attack on the temple customs by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court constituted team opened all the vaults (vault A, C, D, E, & F) except vault B, and gave vide publicity thereby creating unnecessary controversies as well as threat to the temple, state and maybe even the nation. All this while the Supreme Court remained a silent spectator and after about a week blames the media without enquiring in who all were behind the publicity. Subsequently the Supreme Court constituted another team comprising of Shri C.V.Ananda Bose IAS, as Chairman of the committee along with a representative each from the Archeology Department, Reserve bank of India, Govt of Kerala, Royal family, Executive Officer of Sri Padmanabha swamy temple to scientifically evaluate the temple wealth. The Supreme Court did not consult or include the temple thanthri (temple acharya) in the committee for ascertaining the deity’s permission before ordering the evaluation, ignoring the overwhelming demand of the Hindu organizations, devotees and Hindu community. This was the second attack on the temple customs by the Supreme Court.

At this the Hindu organizations and devotees came forward strongly against the violations of temple customs and demanded in writing to the concerned people to ascertain the deity’s mind by conducting a ‘deva prasna’. It was in this situation that the temple authorities conducted a ‘deva prasna’ that stretched for four days. The ‘deva prasna’ considered all the twelve ‘bhaavaas’ and ascertained the ‘ doshaas’ and decided on the ‘ pariharaas’.

From the ‘deva prasna’ it was very clearly known that: -

· The vault B should not be opened at any cost. Because it is situated in ‘moola sthaana’ and directly connected with the ‘ chaithanya’ of the temple.

· The opening of the other vaults has brought about immense displeasure to the deity and made the deity angry, and hence ‘ parihaaraas’ strictly according to ‘thantra shaasthra’ have to be conducted immediately. It was also found that none of the objects in the vaults should be moved to another place.

· Videography or Photography of the objects in the vaults should not be taken.

Now as per the ‘deva prashna’ any further interference by the courts or by the court constituted committee in opening the vault B and valuing the wealth in the other vaults would cause further displeasure to the deity and could lead to disasters.

In this historical cross road like situation, the Hindu society is duty bound to protect their Dharma, Temples and their Customs & Rituals at any cost, from threats, even if it is from the Governments & Courts.

2) The Supreme Court’s remark with regard to the ‘Deva prashna’ asking one of the parties to the case, whether he has faith in the Supreme Court or ‘ deva prashna’ is very unfortunate. It would amount to questioning the right to religious beliefs of an individual. It would also amount to insulting the thousands of temples in kerala as well as the devotees who have been following this tradition of ‘ deva prashna’ for centuries. It is to be kept in mind that thousands of temples including the famous Guruvayur Sri Krishna temple and Sabarimala Sri Ayyappa Swami Temple have been following this custom of going by the periodic ‘ deva prashna’. This observation of the Supreme Court would imply that ‘ deva prashna’ is a blind belief and has to be questioned. If taking this as a precedent, the lower courts also follow this, then it would lead to interference in the affairs of any temple thereby causing destruction to temples, especially in kerala.

3) This appeal was filed before the H’ble Supreme Court against the order of the H’ble Kerala High Court wherein the State Government or an agency controlled/ nominated by the State Government was to take over the administration of the Sri Padmanabha swamy temple. And if the Supreme Court agrees with the High Court’s order, then it will pave the way for Government/ Court interference and takeover of temples all over Bharat. This would open the flood gates of governments/ government controlled or nominated agencies taking over temples across Bharat.

Is there conspiracy / hidden agenda?

On following the trail of the present case, one cannot be blamed if he/she feels there is a conspiracy or hidden agenda behind this whole affair.

Because the dispute in the lower court had been only with regard to administrative rights between individuals representing trade unions and the Kerala High court had passed an order directing the State Government or State Government controlled/ nominated agency to take over the temple administration. The Court asking the State Government whether it was willing to take over administration of the temple and the Law secretary informing that there is no legal hurdles in government taking over administration of the temple, all give rise to suspicion in the minds of Hindu devotees of a deep rooted conspiracy. The Kerala High Court’s order lends further credence to this suspicion.

Leading lawyers opined that under Article 25 & 26 of the Indian Constitution, there is no provision for Government (that is supposed to be ‘ secular’) or a government controlled/ nominated body to take over administration of temples. So the lower courts order directing the State Government to take over administration of Sri Padmanabha swamy temple gives rise to suspicion in the minds of Hindus.

Immediately after the news of the wealth of the temple came out, when the vaults were opened as per the directions of the Supreme Court, there were conscious efforts to snatch away this wealth from the temple, claiming: -

i. This belonged to the Government

ii. These were to be kept in archeology and museum departments

i. And to support the demand that the wealth belonged to the Government, about five theories were circulated. That:-

a. This was a treasure, and hence under the Treasure Trove Act, this belonged to the government.

b. This was from the taxes of the people of Travancore and hence it belonged to the State.

c. These were the treasures seized from other kingdoms that were conquered

d. During the times of ‘ thrippadi daanam’, the King Marthanda varma donated this to the temple.

e. The entire wealth of the kingdom was hidden during the invasion of Tippu Sultan.

However there are enough evidences and records to prove that these claims are baseless. a) Everyone knows that these are not unknown wealth, and that documents like the ‘‘mathilakom’ records mention about the donors and donations.

b) There were three treasuries in the erstwhile Travancore state, which is also quite well known to all historians. “Karuvelam’ – the official treasure of the kingdom. ‘ Chellam’ – the personal treasury of the King, and ‘‘Bhandaram vaka’ of Shri Padmanabha which was exclusive to the temple and was separate from the other two.

c) If this had been from the treasures seized after conquest of other kingdoms, this would have naturally gone to the “ karuvelam” treasury.

d) Historians know that the king only laid down the crown and sword, symbolically during the ‘ thrippadi daanam’ and that’s how the wealth in the other treasuries was there and the wealth in the palaces is still there.

e) The claim that this was the state wealth hidden fearing plunder by Tippu sultan is absurd, since it was known that Tippu had the habit of plundering temples (he had plundered thousands of temples) and the first place he would have looked for wealth to plunder in Travancore would have been the Sri Padmanabha Swamy temple. Tippu Sultan had in fact claimed that he would tie his horse to the flag mast of Sri Padmanabha Swamy temple.

These arguments though coming from different types of people like politicians, historians, rationalists, archeologists, scientists etc are in fact the megaphones of one source with the intention to either bring this temple under the Government’s control, or make the government forcibly take over the temple wealth.

ii. Demand to shift the wealth to the archeology and museum departments;-

It is common that many valuable artifacts and antiques have been stolen and missing from the museums under these departments including the national museum. And when the news about this temple wealth first broke out, Shri C.V.Ananda Bose IAS, Director, National Museum, New Delhi had said that the entire wealth should be shifted to the National Museum. It is ironic and also reason for suspicion that this same person is the chairman of the Supreme Court appointed committee to scientifically evaluate the wealth. Co incidentally New Delhi happens to be the nerve center of Italy based temple antique smuggling rackets. And taking this lead from the chairman of the committee (who has a vested interest), other members of the committee may also stake claim that objects with archeological value should be kept in the archeology museum, and the gold and silver bars etc should go to the Reserve Bank of India, etc. Thus the temple and Hindu society will have to be content with whatever little is left. Not just this, this could also set a dangerous precedent, as all the temples would have gold and silver objects, which would be hundreds of years old with historical, archeological or antique importance, and these respective agencies could lay claim to these temples wealth.

Also giving rise to suspicious motive is the fact that some media have at this time again come up with the demand to open the vaults and scientifically evaluate the wealth in them. These media quote the report of advocates’ commission constituted by the Sub Court that is years old and that has already been considered and seized of by the higher courts and that are now with the Supreme Court. The intention behind quoting these reports now seems to be to divert the attention from the actual issue, ie interference in the affairs of Hindu temples.

Another argument of these media is that these vaults have been opened many times before and hence can be opened again. Hindus believing in ‘Devaprashna’ and Hindu achaaraas cannot accept this contention. The ‘devaprashna’ has also stated that the opening of some of the vaults earlier was not proper and has advised ‘parihaara karmas’ for the same. Also, these medias claim is not fully correct either. Only the vaults in which items for special poojas were kept were opened during such special occasions and not all the vaults. Thus the intention behind spreading such part-truths is suspect.

Another allegation is that the present head of the royal family has been siphoning off wealth from the temple and the present ‘devaprashna’ is only a guise to hide it. And whoever supports the ‘devaprashna’ is accused of supporting the misdeeds of the head of the royal family, which is not true. The issue is not that of supporting the royal family, but it is basically that of interference in the affairs of temple customs and rituals. Had the Supreme Court ascertained from the concerned people like ‘thantris’ and scholars and explored the options with regard to how the scientific evaluation of the wealth inside the vaults could be done without violating the temple ritual guidelines, the entire Hindu community would have welcomed it. But instead, the Supreme Court unilaterally constituted a team and asked them to open the vaults and scientifically evaluate the wealth, photograph and video graph them. This unilateralist approach has hurt Hindu religious sentiments deeply.

The decision to make the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple share expenses of this committee is highly improper and exposes the malafide intentions and would also set a very bad precedent. Because the temple’s wealth is from the offerings of the devotees, and is not meant to meet improper expenses of such Court appointed Government servants.

United Hindu approach

And as a right beginning in this direction various Hindu caste organizations have already come out with statements with the common demand that: -

* The entire wealth belongs to Lord Sri Padmanabha.

* Only Hindus are entitled to opinion on this issue.

* This wealth has to be safeguarded and if it can be utilized, it should be used for the benefit of Hindus only, and which Hindus would decide at the opportune time

* Adequate security arrangements have to be made for safeguarding the wealth.

* Hindu customs and rituals have to be adhered to strictly.

Conclusion

This issue has the potential to seriously affect Hindu temples in future all over India, set a bad precedent for whimsical takeover/interference/evaluate assets/ usurping of temple wealth by government museums, questioning Hindu beliefs and ‘ aachaaraas’, misuse temple money for non temple related expenses etc. Thus this issue has national ramifications as far as Hindus and Hindu temples are concerned. And so a unified strategy and defense has to be charted out by the Hindu community.

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