By R Vaidyanathan
The news has been splashed from Auckland to Alaska. The temples of India contain several billion dollars worth of treasures. The opening of the vaults in the Sri Padnamanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, according to a court order comes at a dangerous time for our polity.
The mainstream media continues to sensationalise the size of the treasure. One of them gushes that "treasures tumble out of the temple" - as though this is illegal money stashed in the Cayman Islands. Let's be clear: these treasures were donated by the temple's devotees over centuries, and rightfully belong to Lord Vishnu, who cannot even be fully seen from any angle by devotees. He is the true owner of this wealth and this truth should be internalised.
It is unfortunate that this discovery should take place in Kerala, where the percentage of idol-worshippers is a minority - if one excluded Muslims, Christians and Marxists from the fold. The mere act of opening up the vaults and tunnels is thus fraught with significant dangers for Hindu society and our ancient civilisation.
The present times are most inappropriate to try to list the billions of rupees worth of diamonds and rubies and sapphires owned by our temples. We all know that a significant portion of our politicians have a criminal background and even parts of the judiciary are corrupt. The bureaucracy is compromised by a saga of loot and plunder.
In this context, where government finances are completely out of alignment with revenue realities, the temptation will be to use these invaluable treasures to fulfill the insatiable personal and political greed of our politicians to fund populist schemes like "food security" for all with resources belonging to Lord Vishnu. Already more than 80% of the incomes of major temples is used for "secular" causes rather than for "sacred" purposes.
It is not improbable that some jholawala economist will calculate - by dividing his mobile number with the pin code - that more than 70% of the people below poverty line can be lifted out of poverty if only this money is available to the government. The unaccountable civil society group under Sonia Gandhi - also called the National Advisory Council - might formulate a bill (since they are the law framers in the present dispensation) to open up all vaults from the Amarnath to Ayappa temples and from Somnath to Kamakhya.
There will be half-baked debates about using it for "social justice". The only people who can have some say on this wealth are those who visit the temple on a daily basis and who can chant, in this case, the Vishnu Sahasranamam. I am not even sure if those who are counting these treasures are eligible to deal with the "sacred" on the orders of the "secular". One can say that this is the last battle waged by Nehruvian secularists against the 'sacred" even though, in this particular case, it might appear to be a simple case of counting.
Actually counting, enumerating and documenting are secular ways of dealing with sacred treasures in our temples, since the sacred is never documented but just observed and meditated upon.
Some imported white or brown non-resident Indian expert will suggest a way of leveraging these billions and even propose investing a part of it in our stock markets to propel second generation reforms.
Wall Street bankers, with colorful ties and multiple lies, should be tremendously interested. The wealth seen in temples becomes a target for jehadi terrorists and Wall Street bankers - who are no different except for the kind of killing they go for. The memories of the plunder of Somnath are embedded in the brain cells of every citizen of this country.
Let us be clear. The town and the temple are already marked by global terrorists. The Kerala home minister says he will increase the number of pot-bellied constables to protect the treasures, as if the global jehadis can be handled by them.
Quite clearly, this is the most inappropriate time to be listing the Lord's wealth. When a street is full of thugs and dacoits, no woman would venture out wearing her jewels and finery. One wonders why the courts have got into this, when they should have been focusing on the Hasan Alis, Rajas and Kalmadis of the world.
It is puzzling why the acharya sabhas or Hindu organisations are silent on this issue. They may not have understood the full import of what is happening.
For the sake of Dharma and for God's sake, our courts and powers should stop digging for treasures in our temples.
R Vaidyanathan is Professor of Finance, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views are personal and do not reflect that of his organisation.