One of the distinctive features of the protracted Muslim rule in medieval India was the manner in which it impoverished Hindus spiritually, morally, culturally, and economically. This impoverishment wasn’t an accident. It was by design, and it was pretty much 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 a sufficiently powerful Muslim man.
Something similar is happening today in an ostensibly Hindu majority India, which professes a curious brand of secularism, which is practiced at the expense of Hindus.
Almost every major legislation in independent India has resulted in a successive weakening of the Hindu society. Reservations while noble when envisaged first were eventually used to foment fissures between castes which in turn weakened Hindu society. 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 resilience of what I call the Hindu 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 party which has ruled India for the longest duration since 1947.
The latest attack emanates once again, from the 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. The mind set and the politics at work behind this sinister cabal comes 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 TirumalaTirupatiDevasthanams (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 plain speak, it means this: the Congress party has a record of shafting Hindus, their religious institutions and beliefs and therefore I urge it to shaft them one more round because it doesn’t really make a difference.
Jamal Mecklai’s statement only underscores the urgency of the need to liberate Hindu temples from the stranglehold of state control. It is one thing that most state-controlled Hindu temples are in appalling shape. Indeed,both individuals and organizations have been tirelessly campaigning for temple liberation for decades. Now their worst fears have horribly come true—that the state can and will loot or otherwise tread roughshod on Hindu temples. 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.
Yet others have argued 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, recommended the PadmanabhaSwamy temple trustees to “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/wealth actually implies, and two, ignores the venality of the Congress party and the governments it has led so far.
There’s certainly no dearth of such arguments and all of them only take a limited if not a one-sided view of the issue.
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. In case of pre-existing temples, the king would allow the management to run as before and in some cases, would make 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 vargasor classes:
The Archakavarga—the body of priests who performed pujas and other rituals.
The Paricharikavarga—the staff who were in charge of cleaning the temple, supplying essential commodities, maintaining the temple, and such other tasks.
Both these classes were accountable to the sthanikasand stood the risk of punishment for any wrongdoing. While the Archakavarga received a salary and some emoluments in kind, the paricharikavargawas 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 just a place of worship but was a force that sustained an intricate economic system. Every temple had—apart from its daily puja—specific pujas unique to it. 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), 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.
We can also discern this temple economy in two other ways:
graamashritaaalaya: This literally means “a temple which is sustained by the village/town.”In this case, the entire village or town contributed to the protection, maintenance and preservation of the temple.
aalyaashritagrama: 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/town is sustained by the temple.
Wealth Management of Hindu Temples
The wealth of Hindu temples was divided into sthirastiand devasva. Sthirasti means all the lands and physical structures like temple buildings, wedding halls, tanks and so on that belong to the temple.
Devasva literally means that which “belongs to God.” And 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 God of a particular temple.This forms part of what I term the dharma of daana (charity or offering) about which a wealth of treatises exists.All those millions of Hindus who make such offerings to temples even today unconsciously follow this dharma. And 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.
Perhaps the best illustration of this principle can be had in the very temple whose gold the venal Congress Government is now eyeing—Tirupati. 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 Lord and cannot be reclaimed by the donor himself. There is in Tirumala, another deity named “KoluvuSrinivasa,”regarded as the 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, the same or similar ritual applies in varying degrees for example, to Kashi where Kala Bhairava (Shiva) is known as the Kotwal of the city. Indeed, the word “kotwal” is a corruption of the Sanskrit Kshetrapala, meaning the policeman of the city. I leave it to your imagination to discern what such kinds of rituals symbolize.
The Real Theft of the Congress Government
The role of Hindu temples as mere custodians of the gold and jewelry made as offerings has deeper roots. As custodians, they do not have the right to alter or sell this because it does not belong to them. In another sense, temples also act as the trustees of the devotion of the people who make these offerings to God.The offering is merely an outward symbol. The devotion is real. And it is of this that temples are the trustees.
And so, the planned temple heist emanating from the rotten core of the depraved Congress Government is actually the theft of the devotion and trust of nearly a billion Hindus. 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 his wealth and kingdom are subordinate at the altar of pure devotion.Thus, there is something deeply troubling and infinitely evil about a mind-set that wants to grab the money of such people, of the devout that are long dead. This then is the real theft planned by the Congress Government.
Arresting the fall of the Rupee is merely a pretext that fools none. The actual reason for the fall of the Rupee is the nine-year-long, merciless mauling of the economy. Gargantuan scam upon scam, zero governance, flight of capital, failure to tackle inflation, zero job creation, inaction even after repeated downgrading of India’s economy by rating agencies…these are the real reasons why the Rupee has fallen.
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 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?
In the end, two things should serve as a warning to the Congress Government that has embarked on this dangerous adventure.
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’sRajatarangini describes how the people of Kashmir reached the end of their tolerance with Harsha and beat him to death. And Harsha ruled for 22 years.
The second concerns a warning in verse concerning charity.
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.
This verse was compulsorily inscribed on every daanashasana (inscription found on land/temple grants), and can still be found on the walls or stone inscriptions of old Hindu temples and similar structures of antiquity.
I shall leave you with a poignant conversation in SL Bhyrappa’s classic, Tanthu. One of the characters speaking to the protagonist about Indira Gandhi’s wretched Land Ceiling Act, says: “for 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 given to us by others.”