FaithWorld

Battle intensifies in Kerala for Hindu temple’s $22 billion treasure

(Devotees throng to Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, capital of the southern Indian state of Kerala February 18, 2011/Sivaram)

A $22 billion treasure trove unearthed beneath Kerala’s Padmanabhaswamy Temple has sparked a fierce political and public debate over ownership and how best to put the vast wealth to use. The vaults of the 16th century temple were prised open for the first time in June, since when public calls have grown for redistribution of the wealth to the poor.

Discovered in the vaults were a dazzling stash of gold ornaments, Napoleonic era coins and sacks of gemstones. The archaeological find, one of the greatest ever made in India, has triggered a fierce legal battle for custodianship, pitting the royal family of Travancore, which controls the temple, against the Kerala High Court that has asked the state government to bring the temple under a public trust.

The 500-year-old temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, is unique in terms of architecture and mythology, with legends of a curse protecting the long-hidden treasure.

While the royal family’s guardianship of the temple’s wealth over close to three centuries has drawn plaudits, critics say the fortune could go far to stimulate Kerala’s local economy and improve living standards in a country with an estimated 450 million people living in poverty. “The royal family had a great tradition of being progressive and it had been an integral part of the history and traditions of the temple. It would not be right to deny them any role in the temple’s affairs,” said Ramesh Chennithala, chief of the Kerala unit of the ruling Congress party.

Huge treasure trove discovered under southern Indian Hindu temple

(Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, capital of the southern Indian state of Kerala February 18, 2011/Sivaram V)

Investigators plan to pry open the final vault hidden deep under a centuries-old Indian Hindu temple as police guarded round the clock the shrine where billions of dollars worth of treasure has been discovered. Over the last week a seven-member team of investigators has broken into five of the six secret subterranean vaults piled high with jewels that have lain untouched for hundreds of years.

Onlookers and devotees thronged the shrine in the bustling centre of Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of India’s southern Kerala state, as officials said treasure worth more than $20 billion had been found — more than India’s education budget.  Sacks filled with diamonds were piled next to tonnes of gold coins and jewellery, media reported, in the vaults of the 16th century Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, the royal chapel of the former rulers of Travancore, now part of Kerala state.

Indian Supreme Court suspends controversial Ayodhya mosque ruling

(Hindu militants storm a disputed mosque-temple site December 6, 1992 climbing atop the building's dome as they demolish it to clear the site for a Hindu temple/Sunil Malhotra)

India’s Supreme Court has suspended a High Court ruling over the partition of a disputed site that has been a flashpoint for Hindu-Muslim clashes, throwing one of the country’s most religiously-divisive legal battles into uncertainty. A two-justice bench questioned the reasoning behind a ruling passed last year that divided the site of the former Babri Masjid mosque destroyed by Hindu rioters in 1992 into three separate plots for Hindus, Muslims, and a local Hindu trust.

The demolition of the 16th century mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya triggered some of India’s worst riots that killed about 2,000 people. Over 200,000 police were deployed for the September ruling to guard against communal violence.

Nepal Christians threaten ‘corpse’ protest in burial row

pashupatinathChristians in Nepal have threatened to parade corpses in the capital to press the government into finding them alternative burial grounds after burials near the country’s holiest Hindu shrine were banned.

Christians account for less than two percent of Hindu-majority Nepal’s 28 million people. Authorities barred them this month from burying their dead in the forested graveyard at Sleshmantak saying the land belonged to the Pashupatinath Hindu temple, a U.N. heritage site in Kathmandu. (Photo: Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu September 2, 2008/Shruti Shrestha)

“Burial after death is a fundamental human right and the government is violating this by not giving us any place to bury the dead,” C.B.Gahatraj, a senior official of the Committee for Christian Recommendation for New Constitution told Reuters.

100 pilgrims killed in stampede at Hindu festival in India

sabarimalaA stampede sparked by a night-time road accident in dense forest has killed more than 100 Hindu pilgrims in the southern state of Kerala in India. Kerala’s deputy general of police told reporters that 102 people who visited the Sabarimala Temple to offer prayers to the Hindu deity Ayappa had been killed on Friday night. Officials at a Hindu temple estimated the death toll at around 100, Kerala Temple Affairs Minister Ramachandran Kadannappally said by telephone. (Photo: Pilgrims at Sabarimala Temple, January 15, 2003/Dipak Kumar)

Hundreds of thousands had gathered at the hilltop shrine of Sabarimala on Friday evening, the last day of an annual two-month religious festival. A bus carrying pilgrims back to the neighbouring state of Karnataka collided with a jeep and went out of control, crushing people walking nearby, Kadannappally said. Panicked pilgrims rushed forward, triggering a stampede.

“They came down the hillside… this happened primarily because the area was totally dark,” Jacob Punnoose, Kerala Deputy General of Police told Times Now TV channel.

U.S. raps Palestinian report on Western Wall

wall (Photo: Jews pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, March 15, 2010/Baz Ratner)

The U.S. State Department has condemned  an official Palestinian report last week asserting that Jerusalem’s Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites, is not Jewish. Al-Mutawakil Taha, deputy information minister in the Palestinian Authority, published a five-page study last week disputing Jews’ reverence of the shrine as a retaining wall of the compound of Biblical Jewish Temples destroyed centuries ago and saying it is a “Muslim wall and an integral part of al-Aqsa mosque and Haram al-Sharif.”

“We strongly condemn these comments and fully reject them as factually incorrect, insensitive and highly provocative,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters on Tuesday. “We have repeatedly raised with the Palestinian Authority leadership the need to consistently combat all forms of delegitimization of Israel, including denying historic Jewish connections to the land,” he added.

The wall is adjacent to a politically sensitive holy complex in a part of Jerusalem that Israel captured in a 1967 war. The area, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, is home to al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

Malaysia fines Muslims for brandishing cow’s head in Hindu temple protest

MALAYSIA-POLITICS/TENSIONS (Photo: Protesters stomp on cow’s head, 28 Aug 2009/Samsul Said)

A Malaysian court has sentenced a Muslim to a week in jail and fined 11 others for a brandishing a cow’s head during a protest against the construction of a Hindu temple.

Critics said the light sentences on Tuesday may further strain race relations between Muslims, who make up the majority of the country’s 28 million population, and minority Hindus and Christians who complain of discrimination.

“Going ahead, this will become a political issue for the country’s minorities and further reinforce their unhappiness,” said James Chin, a politics professor at Monash University in Kuala Lumpur.

Report from Tibet: “We believe in Buddhism, Chinese believe in nothing”

lhasaTibet is richer and more developed than it has ever been, its people healthier, more literate, and better dressed and fed.  But the bulging supermarkets, snappy new airports and gleaming restored temples of this remote and mountainous region cannot hide broad contradictions and a deep sense of unhappiness among many Tibetans that China is sweeping away their culture. (Photo: A Tibetan woman spins her praying wheel as she walks around the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, March 10, 2010/China Daily)

Beijing has spent freely to bring development to restless Tibet, part of a grand strategy to win over the proudly Buddhist people by improving their standard of living.  Lhasa is starting to look like any other middle-tier Chinese city, with the same fast food outlets and mobile phone stores, and the same unimaginative architecture.

Large sums have also gone into restoring monasteries and temples, the centre of life for devoutly Buddhist Tibetans, bolstering government claims that China respects religious rights.

Japanese monk gets down with the beat for Buddhism

gold buddha

A gold statue of Buddha in Tokyo, 26 Nov 2009/Yuriko Nakao

He raps. He chants. And this month, Japan’s famed hip-hop loving monk, better known as MC Happiness, will tap dance on stage, in the name of Buddhism.

Kansho Tagai heads the 400-year-old Kyoouji Temple in central Tokyo, offering softly chanted prayers throughout the day amid traditional bell chimes and wafts of incense.

But once in a while, he raises the volume, and the tempo, of these prayers, going before an audience to rap Buddhist sutra, or teachings, to hip hop beats and in modern Japanese.

Hindus and Muslims worship side-by-side in Uttar Pradesh

News stories about Hindu-Muslim relations in India usually stress strains between followers of the two faiths. Here’s a short Reuters video from our partner ANI on Hindus and Muslims worshipping side by side in a temple and a mazar (mausoleum) in Uttar Pradesh state: