One of the distinctive features of the protracted Muslim rule in medieval India was the heartless manner in which it comprehensively impoverished Hindus—physically, spiritually, morally, culturally, and economically. This impoverishment was by design, and it was largely faithful to the tenets of Islamic statecraft and polity, which mandated zimmi (or dhimmi)status to non-Muslims living under Islamic rule. The zimmi status among other things meant that Hindus had absolutely no rights: they couldn’t practise their faith openly, couldn’t build or renovate temples, had to pay all sorts of extortionate taxes, had no legal redress even if they were wronged, and their women were fair game for Muslim men.
Something reflective of this had occurred in circa 2013 at the peak of the Congress-led UPA rule. But first, some history.
Almost every major legislation in independent India has resulted in a successive weakening of the Hindu society. The concept of Reservations for the downtrodden classes while well-intentioned were eventually used to foment fissures between our varnas which in turn weakened Hindu society as a whole. The Hindu Marriage Act similarly served to break up Hindu families. The so-called land reforms similarly ended up impoverishing Hindus apart from promoting a culture of sloth. The Hindu Temples Act greatly diminished one of the signal glories of Hinduism—the temple culture.
Despite all this, it is a measure of the formidable resilience of what I call the Sanatana spirit that Hindus are still functioning as a nearly cohesive society bound by millennia of cultural unity. Sadly, this cohesion and this cultural unity continues to face the most brutal and relentless attack not by any Muslim or colonial invader but at the hands of Hindus themselves. More specifically, the Congress dynasty which has ruled India for the longest duration since 1947.
One such attack emanated in 2013 from the selfsame Congress party in the form of a move to take over the gold held by major temples in India—from Tirupati to Shirdi to Siddhivinayak to Padmanabhaswamy. When this news broke, it naturally attracted nationwide outrage and the sinister move was aborted. But it is important to recall the fact even today not merely because it is of such civilizational importance but more because it indicates how appallingly Hindus have given up control over their key institutions, which have a direct bearing on their very survival. Think Sabarimala. Think of its precursors which led to the Supreme Court deliver that horrible “judgement.”
In any case, the mind set and the politics at work behind the sinister attempt to take over temple gold had emanated straight from the horse’s mouth, from a gentleman named Jamal Mecklai, an advisor to the RBI:
“The finance minister and RBI governor should jointly — and immediately — approach the trustees of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD),” said Jamal Mecklai, chief executive of Mecklai Financial. “Three of these (trustees) are state government appointees, and given the current political dispensation this is a distinct advantage. (Emphasis added)
This is as direct an admission as it can get. Translated in plainspeak, it means this: the Congress party has a record of shafting Hindus, their religious institutions and beliefs and therefore Jamal Mecklai urges it to shaft Hindus one more time because it doesn’t really make a difference.
Jamal Mecklai’s statement only underscores the urgent need on the part of Hindus as a people and as a community to liberate their sacred and traditional institutions—including temples—from any sort of interference.
One wonders why Jamal—who is a Muslim—doesn’t recommend the state to approach mosques and churches for the purpose. After all, the Church is one of the biggest landowners in India, and Waqf boards own enormous expanses of land. The combined wealth that both these proselytizing imperialistic, Abrahamic cults own in India has exploded under the direct patronage of successive Congress governments both at the Centre and states and I have no doubt that the amount is enough to buy out entire countries in Africa. Here is a titbit from a 2012 Madras High Court ruling:
The Madras High Court ruled this week that the Church of South India Trust Association (CSI-TA) is a company registered under the Companies Act, and that the Registrar of Companies (RoC) is entitled to invoke the provisions of the Companies Act by calling upon CSI-TA to produce documents for inspection under Section 209A of the Act… The assets of the church, spread across the four southern states, are in the region of Rs 1 lakh crore, and receipts are estimated to be roughly Rs 1,000 crore. [Emphasis added]
Given this staggering wealth, the Church can naturally bend a million M.K. Stalins at its whim. The next state: Andhra Pradesh under Chief Minister Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy and his soul-harvesting brother-in-law, “Brother” Anil.
Of course, when it concerns matters related to Hindus, all manner of “reasoning” is brandished and convenient explanations come handy. Thus, the “argument” that all idle gold is useless and that “true wealth is made every day by men getting up out of bed and going to work. By school children doing their lessons, improving their minds.” And based on this “reasoning,” the recommendation quickly flows forth: the Padmanabha Swamy temple trustees should “use their vaults as a reserve to back a new, well-managed currency.” This sounds like a perfectly sensible argument except that it misses two crucial points: one, it lacks both the historical and cultural sense of what temple gold and wealth actually implies, and two, ignores the venality and seven decades of daylight robbery of Congress governments.
There’s no dearth of such “arguments” and all of them only take a limited if not a one-sided view of the issue. But given their record, most of them are dishonest because they’re agenda-driven.
Hindu Temple Management
Historically, temples used to be built by kings or communities or guilds or individuals. Temples that were built by kings were managed directly by the king or by people or boards he appointed. In the case of pre-existing temples, the king would allow the management to run as before and in some cases, he would make additional land grants and donations. Almost every temple of known and unknown antiquity has elaborate inscriptions that describe how the management of the temple was structured.
Temples that were built by private people were managed by a group of people—akin to a board of trustees in today’s parlance—known as sthanikas. These sthanikas were typically locals (hence the name sthanikas, meaning people from a sthana or locality) and were drawn from all the four varnas. Decisions on major and minor matters were taken collectively.
Temple management was further subdivided into two vargas or classes:
- The Archaka varga—the body of priests who performed pujas and other rituals.
- The Paricharika varga—the staff who were in charge of cleaning the temple, supplying essential commodities, maintaining the temple, and other related tasks.
Both these classes were accountable to the sthanikas and stood the risk of punishment for any wrongdoing. While the Archaka varga received a salary and some emoluments in kind, the paricharika varga was provided with arable land, clothes, food grain, a part of the collection of temple funds, and an annual sum of cash (like a bonus).
In fact, a temple was not merely a place of worship but was a force that sustained an intricate and elaborate economic system. Every temple had (apart from its daily puja) specific pujas unique to it. And every such puja mandated the use of prescribed amounts dravya or material—for example, specific quantities of camphor, incense, flowers, milk, sugar, jaggery, spices, prasadam (offering to the deity), artwork like rangoli, and so on. The same applied to more elaborate rituals like havans and yagnas. This system directly helped sustain the livelihood of hundreds of people engaged in various occupations, businesses, and skills. Even to this day, Jathres (or Jathras, Jathas, etc) organized in almost every village across India reflect this elaborate system of temple and community economy and a genius-level of organising society. In fact, the word “Jaatha” (Hindi) or “Jathre” (in Kannada) is derived from the word, “Yatra,” meaning pilgrimage.
We can also discern temple economy in two other ways:
- graamashrita aalaya: This literally means “a temple which is sustained by the village or town.” In this case, the entire village or town contributes to the protection, maintenance and preservation of the temple.
- aalyaashrita grama: This means “a village/town which is sustained by the temple.” Classic examples of this include most temple towns in South India, where the entire village or town is sustained by the temple.
Wealth Management of Hindu Temples
The wealth of Hindu temples was divided into sthirasti and devasva. Sthirasti means all the lands and physical structures like temple buildings, wedding and other halls, tanks, rest houses, and so on that belong to the temple.
Devasva literally means that which “belongs to God.” It is this which concerns us in this context. Devasva includes things like jewellery, gold, diamonds, and other precious metals which are offered to the Deity of a particular temple. This forms part of what is known as “Daana Dharma” (charity or offering) about which hundreds of treatises exist. All millions of Hindus who make such offerings to temples even today unconsciously follow this dharma.
Once this offering is made, nobody has the right to touch it much less alter or sell it for whatever reason—nobody, not even the temple to which the offering has been made can touch it. At best these temples are merely custodians of the offering. Additionally, the king or government has a bounden duty to protect this using the force of arms if necessary.
Perhaps the best illustration of this is available in the very temple whose gold the vile Congress Government coveted in 2013: Tirumala.
The Venkateshwara temple at Tirumala continues to abide by a timeless tradition, which says that once any offering goes into its hundi, it belongs to the Deity and cannot be reclaimed by the donor himself. There is in Tirumala, another deity named “Koluvu Srinivasa.” You can regard him as the Divine Presiding Officer of the entire temple and all affairs associated with it. At the close of every night, the temple priests and staff give an account of the offerings they have collected that day and close the accounts for the day in His Presence. More importantly, this ritual has remained intact till date, even after the lapse of several centuries.
Indeed, we have a parallel of sorts for example, in Kashi, where Kala Bhairava (Shiva) is known as the Kotwal of the city. The word “kotwal” is a corruption of the Sanskrit Kshetrapala, meaning the policeman or guard of the city. I leave it to your imagination to discern what such kinds of rituals really symbolize. This is also the reason I stress repeatedly that if such precious civilizational heritage is destroyed, we will have nothing equal to replace them with.
The Real Theft
The role of Hindu temples as mere custodians of the gold and jewellery made as offerings has deeper roots. As custodians, temples do not have the right to alter or sell these offerings because it does not belong to them.In a very fundamental sense, temples act as the trustees of the devotion of the people.The offering to the Deity is merely an outward symbol. The devotion is real.
Think back, recall all the articles and books and stories you’ve read and the plays and movies you have watched where Hindu Pujaris are routinely mocked and humiliated and temple-going is derided as a time-wasting, superstitious activity. And then contrast it with a pious A.K. Hangal in Sholay coming out of a mosque. Or an ever-compassionate “Father” in Amar Akbar Anthony. Think about it.
And so, the planned temple heist emanating from the rotten core of the Congress Government in 2013 was actually the theft of the devotion and trust of a billion Hindus worldwide.
Temples like Tirumala remain the custodians of offerings dating back to hundreds of years. Almost every major and minor king has made offerings to such shrines—an act indicating that their wealth and kingdom are subordinate at the altar of pure devotion. Thus, there is something deeply troubling and fundamentally evil about a mentality that wants to grab the offerings of such people, of the devout that are long dead. It is a crime against our ancestors, a crime against the most exalted and gentlest civilisation ever produced on this earth.
This is the real theft.
The Congress Government’s lust for Hindu temple gold also has other sinister implications. It aims to kill two birds with one stone: grabbing temple wealth will automatically stop Hindus from donating to temples, which in turn will eventually lead to the destruction of the temple culture. And by implication, this destruction will also lead to the death of one of the defining hallmarks of Hindu culture, civilisation and society.
Besides, the Congress party has always been both the originator and the loudest drumbeater of secularism. And so the question remains: who or what gives the moral right to a secular Government to interfere in the affairs of a religious institution? And if it is somehow endowed with this moral right, why doesn’t it extend its interference to other religions? Both are familiar questions but they need to be definitively answered. Now.
Two things should serve as a warning to every Government that embarks on such dangerous adventures.
The first is history. Sri Harsha who ruled Kashmir in the 11th Century CE was infamous for looting temple wealth. The 7th Taranga of Kalhana’s Rajatarangini describes how the people of Kashmir reached the end of their tolerance with Harsha and beat him to death. Harsha ruled for 22 years.
The second concerns a warning in verse concerning charity, typically found in traditional temple inscriptions.
Swadattaam paradattaam vaa yo hareta vasundhara|
Shashti sahasra varshaani vishtaajjayate krimih||
He who usurps or snatches the charity (grant, gift, donation, land) whether that charity was made by himself or by others, will suffer for 60000 years as a worm in the gutter.
Postscript: I shall leave you with a poignant conversation in SL Bhyrappa’s classic, Tanthu. One of the characters, an aged Temple Purohita speaking to the protagonist about Indira Gandhi’s notorious Land Ceiling Act, says:
“As long as I can remember, none of the kings or chieftains or even the British who ruled us took away the land which was given as a grant to us by others. Our own people have forcibly snatched the land donated to us by others.”