Shri Padmanabha temple of Thiruvananthpuram in kerala is among the oldest and most respected temples of the known world. The rich and the poor pray there and ask for a boon or blessing for self and society. Indeed the biggest batch of temple priests that graduated after rigorous training is from Kerala, God’s own country. When a temple runs short of cash, it can rely on the gold reserve kept in the underground vaults and remained untouched by human hands for centuries.
One such temple is the Shri Padmanabha temple in Thiruvananthpuram, capital of Kerala. Built in the 16th century by kings of the Travancore State, the temple had large endowments of cash and immoveable property donated in reverence by the royal family. In due course a trust was formed for management when the State acceded to the Union of India in 1947. Most of the trustees were from the royal family and they continue to be there. The present wealth of the temple is a result of growth over many centuries. Of course, most of the donations to the temple were from the Royal House of Travancore followed by His Highness of Cochin, other royal houses of the South as well as the North; not forgetting the common man who came from all over the country, all over South-East Asia, Bali, Fiji, Mauritius and so on. By the way, in this temple worshippers are required to wear unstitched clothes, that is a Dhoti and a shawl or a plain wrapper. Only men and women professing Vedic Dharm or only the Hindus are permitted to enter the precincts of the holy place.
It goes to prove that the donations are from the Hindus only and, therefore, only Hindus should have a say in the management of the temple, including the new-found riches. No government should usurp the rights of the temple trust and thrust atheists or non-Hindus into the management. It would be sacrelige.
GENESIS OF PROBLEM
The unbelievable quantum of gold, jewellery, gems and other valuables came to light when the Supreme Court passed an order to open the underground vaults where no human footfalls were heard for a century and a half, to take stock of the moveable and immoveable property of the temple. This order was passed on a petition of a Hindu citizen alleging that the temple trust was mismanaging the temple affairs and corrective steps need to be taken. The making of an inventory of the temple wealth is the first step in that direction.
The process of making an inventory is a long drawn one as all the wealth is yet to be taken out of some unopened vaults. It may take a couple of months. The known wealth so far is indeed staggering. Maunds of pure gold, a nine-foot long golden necklace for the idol, gold coins of all ages and dynasties, precious gems etc have been listed in the inventory being made. There is nothing surprising in what has been taken out of the vaults. It may be recalled that Lord Padmanabhaswamy, just another name of Lord Vishnu, is the presiding deity of the Royal House of Travancore. Members of the royalty and commoners prayed together in the temple and their faith was unflinching as their prayers never went unheard. Offerings made by the devotees whose prayers were granted poured in like rains in Kerala. No wonder the Padmanabhaswamy temple has surpassed even the Tirupati temple of Tirumalai hills in Andhra Pradesh in the ownership of gold and other forms of wealth.
It is a piece of welcome news that the Chief Minister of Kerala has made it known that it is the Temple Trust alone that is empowered to manage the temple including the new-found wealth. The state government has no locus standi in the matter and as such has no intention of meddling into the temple administration. The Supreme Court will hear the case only after all the wealth, moveable and immoveable properties have been accounted for.
Generally the intellectual men and women get involved into academic discussions on the issue of ownership of wealth, state of expenditure and who the beneficiaries of new-found wealth should be. One school of thought believes that the Temple Trust is the sole agency to manage the temple affairs and no one else, not even the state govt, has any right to poke its nose there. Answering the question of ownership of all properties and wealth, this school relies on law of the land which says that the Deity in a temple is a legal person and, therefore, is entitled to own, manage or dispose of its property in the best interests of the temple. Since the view of this school is backed by law of the land, it has gained popular support and is flourishing.
There is another school of thought that believes that what has been dug out of vaults will be subject to the law that lays that it should be surrendered to the government for such disposal as it deems fit. Since this view is diametrically opposed to the view of the Temple Trust and also goes against the grain of common man’s faith and belief, it may have to be abandoned. Moreover, what is the property of a Hindu temple, that should be managed by the Hindu temple itself. Is there govt interference in the management of a church, a mosque or a synagogue? The answer is NO. Since that is the case, the Hindu Temples should not be singled out for interference by the govt in the name of improving management.
There is a general perception that the money or gold or jewels donated by Hindu devotees to a Hindu temple should not be spent on the welfare of a Christian or a Muslim individual or institution. Doing so would amount to robbing Peter to pay Paul. Such an act or omission will violate the law of the land and be absolutely unconstitutional. In a secular country, the govt cannot take away wealth from a Hindu temple and spend it on renovation of a church or a mosque. It cannot be done in the name of doing welfare of minorities. Has any part of charity money received from the Pope of Rome been spent on the welfare activities of the Hindu community? Has the aid given by Saudi Arabia for Muslim Madarsas spent on any Hindu Sanskrit Pathshala? The answer is No.
In view of the foregoing, any sinister plan to take away the new-found gold of the Lord Padmanabhaswamy temple to be spent on the so-called welfare work for all citizens would be violative of the principle of secularism and would, therefore, be unconstitutional.