This article is the first in a series which shall be dedicated to the currently raging controversy on the administration of Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram. The entire controversy began because one local lawyer (An ex-civil servant, who was close to Smt. Indira Gandhi) filed a case claiming that there are malpractices in the administration of the temple. The case was brought to the Supreme Court and the court appointed Mr. Gopal Subramaniam as amicus curiae (Latin for ‘friend of the court’). Incidentally, Mr. Gopal Subramaniam (hereafter GS), served as Additional Solictor General and Solicitor General from 2005-11 during the UPA regime.
GS submitted an interim report in October 2012 and final report in April 2014. As per his recommendations, the administration has been taken away from the erstwhile Royal family of Travancore and vested with a committee constituted under the orders of the court. We shall logically dissect the said reports in this series of articles.
An amicus curiae is expected to be impartial and rational while investigating the case and submitting his report. He is expected to not color the case with his own beliefs, preconceived notions or any personal preferences/practices. Sample one of the statements made by the amicus curiae in his final report (Page 8-9) – “….It may be added that the amicus takes no credit for discovering any of this. It was his morning ritual of [shutting] his mind and seeking guidance, which resulted in discoveries in this direction”. We leave it to the readers to decide whether the amicus curiae meets the expectations stated above.
Coming to the report, we find many jarring claims which make us wonder whether GS is really connected to the day to day world that we experience. Many of the statements also seem to be illogical. A few examples shall be given here:
1. Page 4
“.…Those who administer are unaware of the shastras nor have they made any efforts to inform themselves from the Thantri the proper procedure and methodologies”
This is one of the most perplexing statements that can be made by a constitutional lawyer regarding temple administration. It is generally argued that the secular aspects related to a temple can be governed by the secular government, and that only the religious/spiritual aspect remains outside the purview of government intervention.
Administration of a temple is claimed by the government and constitutional experts like GS to be secular and thus, subject to government intervention. While we question this very distinction of secular and religious aspects related to a temple (we claim both are spiritual and thus outside purview of government control), a person like GS is not expected to confound both of these aspects because prima facie it is against the very logic using which the government has taken over the temples’ administration. Readers can themselves decide the answer to the following question – How many Executive Officers, who are appointed by the various governments to run temples, are well versed in the shastras pertaining to the temple? The answer would be a resounding ZERO.
Even in the earlier days, where the administration of any temple was taken up by an individual/committee, the administrators did not learn the shastras related to the temple. They would simply follow the recommendations given by the competent priests who were the shastrajnas (one who knows shastra). Does the amicus curiae expect that the temple administration board and Executive Officer appointed by the court/government will take time to learn and understand the shastras which form the basis of Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple – which may take several years by itself?
2. Page 7-8
“…It is submitted that although the Temple is dedicated to Sree Padmanabhaswamy, in reality the awe and majesty which Sree Padmanabhaswamy inspires is minimized by a parallel subservience towards the successors of the Ruler and the officers in the administration. As a consequence of this behavior there is a direct affront to the authority of Sree Padmanabhaswamy”
We wonder whether this statement is a result of Abrahamic ideology coloring the view of the amicus curiae. After all, in the Hindu tradition (especially the established sampradayas), a devotee is given equal reverence as the Lord Himself. And this respect/subservience to the devotee is expressed by deep devotion to the primary servants of the devata. Various examples can be shown for this sampradaya –
i) Sringeri Shankaracharya is given great respect at Sringeri Sharada Peetham where Sharada Devi is the presiding deity.
ii) At Mantralayam, the current pontiff as well as Sri Raghavendra Swamy are revered, where the presiding deity is Sri Moola Rama.
iii) The Maharaja of Mysore has certain duties as the primary servant of Sri Chamundeshwari during Dusshera festival. He participates in rituals and is given great respect and revered by the masses.
Many more such examples can be enumerated. In the case of Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple, Sri Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma had dedicated his entire kingdom to the presiding deity in 1750 CE and ruled the kingdom on His behalf. His successors have also adhered to the same custom since 1750. But it is to be noted that the rulers of Travancore from pre-1750 era have also called themselves as Sri Padmanabhadasa.
So here is a family who have always been the primary servants of Sri Padmanabha; whose male and female family members have been proudly wearing the titles ‘Padmanabhadasa’ and ‘Padmanabhasevini’ respectively; who dedicated the entire kingdom and huge amounts of wealth to the temple and lived humbly. The members of the erstwhile Royal family are bhaktas of Sri Padmanabhaswamy of the highest order. Given such antecedents, how could any devout Hindu feel that the titular Maharaja from this family is not worthy of respect?
The claim that reverence towards a devotee can minimize the awe and majesty of the presiding deity is almost Mosaic. Only they make such strict distinction between “creator” and others. It is unbecoming of a practicing Hindu like our amicus curiae to make such a statement in his report. We shall conclude our opinion on this statement by quoting a verse from Mukundamala written by Kulasekara Perumal (a Vaishnava saint and Chera king, ancestor of current Travancore Royals) –
Translation: “O enemy of Madhu and Kaiṭabha, O Lord of the universe, the perfection of my life and the most cherished mercy You could show me would be for You to consider me the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of Your servant” (verse quoted from the version in prapatti.com and translation given by ISKCON’s book on Mukundamala utilized here).
A servant of the Lord or His servant’s servant is not a mere human for a devout Hindu but rather a person worthy of great respect; and it is believed that the Lord is more pleased when someone serves His devotees. We have nothing more to add than simply state that this particular statement in the report is unbearable to traditional devotees of the Lord for it tries to negate one of the foundations of Hindu Bhakti tradition begun by the Azhvars, grown by Ramanuja, and spread over the country by various acharyas like Madhvacharya, Dnyaneshwar, Ramananda, Ravidas, Meerabai, Vallabhacharya, Surdas, Tulsidas, Sankaradeva etc. of different sampradayas.
As an aside, we would like to ask GS if he considers Catholic Christians respect/subservience towards the Pope as a direct affront to the authority of Jesus Christ?
3. Page 13-14
“The existing practices showing leadership of the Ruler/successor is not necessarily a Shastric practice and connotes a pre-constitutional paradigm. It is submitted that after the Tripadidaanam, and after the commencement of the Constitution, and abolition of Privy Purse, to permit a person to hold himself out as ‘Maharaja’ is constitutionally incorrect. Prima facie, the practice is not mandated unless the successor has been initiated into the Moolamantra of the vigraha and performs a special role as a ‘dasa’…”
We shall treat the claim made in the last sentence quoted above separately. First, we shall examine the claim made by this constitutional lawyer about the current temple practice as unconstitutional.
The abolition of Privy Purse (which itself is a breach of trust) has two consequences. First, it denies the financial payment made to the erstwhile Royals every year. Second, it takes away constitutional recognition given to Royalty. It does not invalidate any other agreement made between the Royal families and the government. For example, properties which were retained by erstwhile kings shall continue to remain with the successors of those kings. Similarly, while constitutional recognition and respect given to Royalty has been withdrawn, it is not illegal or a punishable offence to be called as a Maharaja. After all, such a title is used not just by the erstwhile Royal families but also by leaders of various religious denominations. For example, the Goswamis and many other sants are respectfully addressed as Maharaj. But most importantly, the Kerala High Court had already given a judgment that there is nothing unconstitutional in the usage of such titles like ‘His Highness’ or ‘Maharaja’. But the amicus curiae seems to be unaware of this Kerala High Court judgment given just a few months prior to his final report.
Also, in the case of this temple, the Royal family had not only built it but also made the ultimate surrender of themselves to the deity here. Every male child born in the family is dedicated to the deity and they gain the title ‘Padmanabhadasa’ while every female of the family gains the title ‘Padmanabhasevini’. The family members have always prided themselves about being the holders of these titles than the formal Royal titles.
The rituals involved with the investiture of Royalty and dasa/sevini titles are religious rituals which pertain to this family, with respect to the temple, as their traditional rights due to them being the first servants of the Lord. They do not claim any privilege as Royalty in the secular aspect of public life. So, to interfere in the religious rituals is very much outside the purview of the court and government. This brings us to the last sentence of the above quote.
The amicus curiae has claimed that a person can be a dasa only if he is initiated into the mantra of the presiding deity, performs a special role as dasa and also that unless these conditions are met it cannot be a mandated practice. The amicus curiae has no business in interfering with the rights and rituals associated with this temple as it is clearly in the domain of the tantric of the temple. For centuries, the Tantris have sanctioned this practice and it has become an important part of the rituals of this temple. The ‘dasa’ title is given to a child when he is one year old. In a single sentence, the amicus curiae seems to present himself as more knowledgeable about the requirements for being Padmanabhadasa, than the temple Tantri. After all, GS claims that one cannot be a dasa unless he is instructed in the moolamantra. And how does he expect a one year child to be given such instruction?
Anyway, the titular king does perform his duty as the primary servant of the Lord during the Arat procession when he walks bare-chested and without footwear alongside the deities with a naked sword in his hand. The entire procession lasts several kilometers and the titular king is expected to complete this duty despite his age, weather conditions or any other hindrances. This seems to have escaped the view of the amicus curiae.
The entire report is 500+ pages long and we have only touched upon a few points in this article. We shall be continuing this series with several more articles – each presenting our views on where the report seems to have erred and why we consider that the temple administration must stay in the hands of the royals. Readers can discern for themselves how the current system seems to be utilized to take temples out of Hindu hands – after all, the lack of knowledge of shastras is given as one reason while the same is never applied to government or its officers. Such double standards and fallacious arguments have to be pointed out and negated. We should #ReclaimTemples and make the government #GiveUpTemples. May Lord Padmanabha show the way by starting with His own temple.
Note: This article has been jointly written Trasadasyu (@dasyavevrka) and Paanchajanya (@paanchajanyaa)