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Politics, Policy and all things Digital about India

Kerala Temple Wealth Debate – A Backgrounder

The process of inventorying the wealth and artifacts within the vaults of the Sree Anantha Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram has thrown up many questions. Most significant of these questions is the issue of how Hindu Temples with a long history ought to be managed in these modern times. Least significant of course is the gratuitous advise that has been emanating from some quarters on why the Temple wealth ought to be spent on public welfare. Nitin Pai over at the Acorn put it succinctly that this issue in a way brings up the deeper question of how we protect and preserve the Right to Private Property.

This blog post is not intended to offer a specific solution on the way forward for this specific Trust. This blog post is also not intended to pre-empt the Supreme Court on which way it must opine. It suffices to say that the conduct of both the state and central government as well as the Supreme Court will be put to test in how they uphold the rights of Hindu Temples to hold private property and make autonomous decisions on the management of their wealth.

This blog post is primarily intended to provide a compilation of the background research on the Travancore Temple culled from British era documents available on Google Books online Digital Archive as well as the several digitized news reports from early 1900s to the mid 1900s.

Before you dig into the below research – two news items from early 1900s that are significant.

The first is the covenant  from 1949 that was entered into by the states of Travancore and Cochin. In that covenant is clearly described the manner in which the Trust of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple will be managed.

The second and perhaps most pertinent to the current debate is an extensive piece in the Chicago Tribune from May 1932 on Gold exports from India to Britain which specifically describes both the manner in which wealth was contributed to the Temple in Thiruvananthapuram as well as an estimate on both the annual value of the contributions and the total wealth in the vault.

Rest of the background research

A book from 1871 “The Land of Charity – A descriptive account of Travancore and its people by Samuel Mateer”  page 181 onwards has an account of the Temple in Thiruvananthapuram loaned funds to the Travancore State

1877 – From The Manual of the Administration of Madras Presidency Page 45 onwards

1881 – The Imperial Gazetteer Page 133 onwards on how the Temple was independent of the State

1878 – A History of Travancore – Page 171 on how the Temple and the Royalty of Travancore came to be closely intertwined

Also from the Madras Presidency Manual Page 291 on how the State Management of the Temple started in 1811 with Colonel Munro serving as a Resident within the Travancore State.

The revenue of tho lands belonging to tho Bree PudmanabhaSawmy pagoda, which have been acquired from remote times by gift, amount to Bupees 75,000 and go to defray tho daily expenses of the institution ; surpluses are credited to the State treasury and deficits, which rarely occur, aro made good from it. This temple is more or less independent of Government management. The State had no concern with the management of any temples before tho year 1811, when the landed property of 378 temples was assumed and the management taken over. Other minor temples, 1,171 in number, which had no property, were also assumed either before or at that date. The expenditure, establishments and rules for management, were settled on this occasion on a permanent basis. The lands thus assumed now yield a revenue of Bupees 4,30,000, while the annual expenditure on tho 378 pagodas concerned with them amount to about Bupees 3,92,000. The annual grants for the other 1,171 temples amount to about Bupees 28,000. The interest of Government in respect of these institutions is for the most part that of a trustee, and as a church establishment thoy cannot be regarded as expensive.

The Indian Express Archives from 1949 debating the Hindu Religious Endowments Act.

The East Indian Gazetteer from 1828 on how the British came to manage Travancore.

The transcript of the first hand testimony by Colonel Munro in 1832 to a select committee of the British Parliament on the East India Company Affairs.

All the Treaties between the British and the Travancore Kingdom between 1788 and 1805.

Lastly an extensive discussion on the Ownership of Temples in the Malabar Region from an analysis of arbitration between of disputes between Travancore and Cochin.

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Filed under: Offstumped, Shashi Tharoor

6 Responses

  1. counterview says:

    Its only a matter of time before the govt swallows the whole treasure for its well-meaning non-revenue generating populist schemes. Windfall as this is not to be sneezed at.

  2. Ron from India says:

    Very good research.
    Must be appreciated.

  3. Ragu Kattinakere says:

    Thank you

  4. Nerus says:

    Not to be pedantic, but in the first paragraph, it must be “advice” (noun) as opposed to “advise” (verb).

  5. [...] discovery of staggering wealth in the underground cellars of Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, here is a backgrounder from offstumped. The first is the covenant from 1949 that was entered into by the states of Travancore and Cochin. [...]

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