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God and Glitter: role of wealth in modern religion

July 19, 2011

Modernisation: think out-of-the-drum

The recent discovery of wealth purportedly worth Rs. 100,000 crores at the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Tiruvananthapuram has got journalists from across the world to report on the happenings in  God’s Own Country! There have been views and counter-points on whom this wealth belongs to and what should be done with the money.  It is interesting that in today’s desperate-to-appear-secular (read anti-Hindu) polity, the majority opinion seems to be that the money belongs to the temple or Lord Padmanabha himself.

Coming back to faith and money, while The Vatican may have a budget of less than half a billion dollars, the value of it’s real estate holdings and exquisite artwork (courtesy: Michelangelo & Co.) is not accounted for. The value  of these works have been humbly recorded as 1-euro each! I haven’t even started talking about real estate ownership here. In India, with even optimistic estimates indicating an under 10% Christian population, the Church is next only to the Indian Government in terms of land ownership! The Waqf’s land holdings ensure that the Muslim community is also not too far behind. In a nutshell, an assessment of all the religious institutions on the same valuation parameters of the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple would only show that all of them are rich; very rich.

So the question that this enormous wealth begs is simple – what can be done with this wealth? Should it be used for public welfare or for religions; in the country of origin or to grow the religion elsewhere? While there can be no correct or ideal answers to these questions, the Church has clearly been the savviest in managing its finances. While the larger conversion strategy of investing in the poor through education and healthcare and then reaping the rewards of their affluence has been a mutually beneficial strategy between the Church and the believer, enormous revenues are generated from rentals, education and healthcare. Thus the Christian enterprise has been able to successfully penetrate every corner of the globe (barring perhaps – Bhutan!). Albeit less successfully, Muslim organisations have also been able to generate income through real estate. Most of this money though is used to sponsor mardasas or support the Hajj pilgrimage. The Hindu faith is has fallen off the map in terms of non-donation revenues.

All of us hear of politicians donating (guilt-induced?) significant amounts of money to the Gods in India. What do the Temples do with this wealth? We have resplendent crowns and immaculate jewellery alright, but surely there is more money than meets the eye in terms of ornaments. Being a non-proselyting faith, Hindus actually do not explore different options in terms of investments or expenditure, for the Hindu balance sheet is karmic and physical wealth is put away for a rainy day. Unfortunately, history shows that there are no rainy days for religion – only hurricanes (as the Somnath temple proves), which leave behind such irreversible devastation with the wealth of generations being dissolved in the mayhem.

The whole Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple episode should be seen as a wake up call for Hindu religious institutions to ensure better planning of finances. It shows that Hindus can find the necessary resources to protect and propagate the Hindu way of life. With a combination of deceit, guile and  terror or the allure of westernisation, Hindus are being weaned away from a civilisation which is at harmony not only with different religions, but with modern notions of justice, equality and fraternity. Some ideas:

1) Reach-out: To the under-privileged in India: Go beyond Education and Healthcare (which are definitely necessary) to imbibe a sense of pride in being an Indian and in the ‘Hindu way of life’.

2) Research & Education: Build awareness among the larger population on the ‘Sanatana Dharma’ through socio-cultural programs. Celebrate diversity and encourage research (through grants) on different strains of the Hindu faith.

and lastly,

3) Reform: It is imperative that the Hindu religious order adapts to the modern world. Hindus need not take the Judea-Christian pop culture route,  but should celebrate Indian classical music instead of being locked away in nondescript by-lanes in the Hindi heartland or along the Cauvery. (both metaphorically and literally)

Like the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple, Hindu religion has gems hidden away in different philosophies – no new books are needed; a good librarian will do the trick.


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One Comment
  1. If the temples hadn’t hid their treasures the raiding muslim and christian(British) parties wouldv’e looted. And by the time we even wanted to fight back there would’ve been nothing left.

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