Treasure or Test?

Over a lakh crore worth of treasure found in a temple vault! A not-so-popular temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple disgorged a startling stock of wealth that had been lying in its vaults for over 100 years! It is exciting, of course. There is something about ancient wealth found serendipitously that touches something deep and primordial within us. I was enamoured by the idea of lovely shiny jewels, and of course that one-ton gold chain. It was a real-life “National Treasure” – except that this was not a movie and the treasure was ours. I see a lot of “national pride” welling up on hearing of this mammoth wealth. As for me, I am also embarrassed that the wealth desperately needed to meet a developing country’s demands was always there, hidden away. It was thrilling that it had been found.

But the thrill was short-lived, killed by the savage greed of everyone involved. Politicians, media, the man on the street; everyone laid claim to the treasure. Some spoke of demanding the “other” looted treasure from invaders and occupiers. Some brought up deplorable communal tones asking why ‘temple treasure’ is being singled out and why not raid mosques and churches. As always, the ranting of unhinged minds was the loudest. History is replete with stories of occupying armies of one country committing injustices on another. A lot of those countries and empires do not exist anymore. And certainly no one is “raiding” any houses of worship! What should bother us is that there was such wealth lying around of no use whatsoever to any living thing or nonliving, for that matter. It was not even used as a temple maintenance fund. God certainly does not need money. And if He did, He would not hoard it in secret vaults!

I also feel sorry for the family that it originally belonged to. They were either robbed of it, or were content to forget it. The latter scenario is very troubling for it is emblematic of what ails our society. Someone had enough wealth to put it away and then forget it? It is very similar to our situation today. There is a trillion dollars of Indian money hidden in Swiss Bank accounts. Seriously, how low do we have to steep as a society before we get rattled by how much money is lying around unaccounted in the hand of the few wealthy? Do they themselves not see that they are not using it because they obviously do not need it? Avarice is unnervingly irrational.

The opening of the vaults has brought into light so much more than the physical treasure. It is forcing us to face our responsibility to our culture and history. It is a test of the mettle of our people. Are we going to rot in the past and continue arguing about what went wrong, or can we take what we have and move on? It is bringing out into the open the mistrust of our own leaders. Will they for once, under public scrutiny, do what they were elected to do – to work for the people who voted them into power? Is the media going to be responsible enough to follow through and keep its attention of the situation? I hope this treasure will be the test that will teach us to be a civilized, developed society.

There is only one pertinent point – What should we do now? Let history be. There is no provenance available for this wealth so it belongs to the National government. Whether we like it or not, that is the fact. Personally, I do not like it; I do not trust our politicians. Even if it is relegated to a museum, it is very likely that only a smidgen of its entirety would eventually come into public view. Politicians, temple management, everyone would have had their share of course. The Salar Jung museum of Hyderabad has had artifacts disappear under the aegis of a Director who held the post for 20 years!

The ideal use of the wealth would be, undoubtedly, to benefit the people. Not a few, all. Sell most of the gold and artifacts and use the money to build roads, better water distributing systems, solar panels for villages, hospitals with state-of-art resources; the needs are many and extensive. Display the very special pieces in a museum that is built in an area which could use the development that comes with tourism.  We need to rise above rhetoric and rapacity. We also need to shake off apathy and demand that the country, and its people, profit from its own treasures. I would probably have the Royal family pick a few things for themselves as a goodwill gesture. With largesse should also come generosity. Why do we always get greed instead?

Sarah Hasan Alam

The author began writing seriously when the Editor of Deccan Chronicle was kind enough to allow her to submit a story for her paper. She freelanced for the paper and wrote across the spectrum – children’s stories, reports, controversial viewpoints. She continued to write when she moved to the US. Her fairy tales were published, and she began her blog. Like most women, she juggles a lot of roles – wife, mother, teacher. But her qua writer is the one she cherishes the most!