Temple treasure: Are man-made laws above God and faith?

via VR Jayaraj | Thiruvananthapuram - Daily Pioneer published on August 13, 2011

Can man-made laws decide matters related to God and faith? This is the question now being discussed over the issue of what to do with the amazing treasure collection, preliminarily valued at over Rs 100,000 crore, found in the five secret vaults of Sri Padmanabha Swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram.

With a Deva Prasnam (astrological examination) held at the temple from last Monday to Thursday warning in strong terms that the treasures should not be evaluated, displayed, photographed, publicized or even taken out of the chambers in the case of several articles, the implementation of a Supreme Court directive to get these tasks done has become uncertain.

The Prasnam, a ritual performed to know of the will of the deity on any matter related to Hindu temples in Kerala, also showed signs that prohibited the opening of the second of the six vaults in the shrine, saying that such an act could bring unforeseen disasters even to the country and possible death by poisoning to the one who did it and his relatives.

In this context, the job of the five-member expert committee appointed by the apex court for documentation and valuation of the sacred treasures would now become difficult. Worshippers of Lord Padmanabha and Hindu organizations have categorically stated that nothing that goes against the will of the deity would be allowed to be done.

At the same time, if the committee headed by CV Ananda Bose of the National Museum Institute, is unable to carry out its task, it will pose a huge problem to the highest seat of judicial delivery system in the country. “The apex court will have to find a workable solution to the issue without hurting sentiments,” said Suresh Babu, a lawyer and a Sri Padmanabha devotee.

The Congress-led UDF Government in Kerala headed by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has taken a position that prominence should be given to the devotees’ beliefs while octogenarian VS Achuthanandan, leader of the largest party, the CPI(M), in the State is describing the Deva Prasnam as a gimmick to spread superstitions.

The experts’ committee, according to sources, has already prepared a preliminary action plan for assessing the value of the treasures and opening the sacred vault. It is expected to give a final shape to this plan at its meeting to be held on August 22. Hindu organizations have already warned them of protest if there is any attempt to violate the findings of the Deva Prasnam.

The dominant view among the members of the committee is that their job is to obey the Supreme Court’s directive and it is up to the apex court to consider the findings of the Prasnam and complaints of the devotees. They have reportedly come to the decision that any protests from the part of the devotees should be seen as a law and order issue.

However, devotees and legal experts are expecting the Supreme Court to come up with a solution that “does not hurt the leaf or the thorn” (as one lawyer put it) after getting the report of the committee on the situation. “It is going to be a bit difficult. But I am confident that our justice system is mature enough to deal with such situations,” said a lawyer of the Kerala High Court.

The Travancore royal family, traditional trustees of the temple, will be briefing the apex court on the findings of the Deva Prasnam. Chief Minister Chandy also has said that the Government would convey to the apex court its opinion on the matter that the devotees’ sentiments should be respected.

For the time being, the biggest challenge with regard to the treasures is being faced by the Kerala Government – of giving fool proof security to the temple in the context of its rise to international fame as the richest Hindu shrine in the world after an earlier committee publicized details of the gold and other valuables held by the five vaults.

This challenge has become tougher after the Deva Prasnam showed signs that suggested possibilities of theft attempts – even by digging the earth. The astrological examination had also showed that such attempts had been made in the past. The Kerala Police have already formulated strategies for short-term and long-term security arrangements at the temple.

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