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Friday, June 9, 2023

Blast from the past: why DMK government’s idea to melt temple gold is dangerous?

After revealing its intentions to melt 2000kg of temple gold a few days ago, the DMK government has made it a reality by setting up 3 panels to oversee the melting process. The move has invited criticism from all quarters as an overreach of HRCE’s powers. However the HRCE minister has said that they are only following what Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam does in this regard.

The minister said in an interview to The Hindu that they have decided to melt the gold only after keeping what is necessary. He claimed that “It has been the practice since 1976. Sometimes the gold was used for making temple cars and paving the roof of the sanctum sanctorum”. He justified it by pointing out that TTD has been doing the same for the last 10 years.

While assuring that the jewellery offered by Kings that have been traditionally in use will not be touched, he said that only broken jewelleries and the ones that “don’t meet the temples’ requirements” will be melted. The DMK government thinks that it can get crores of rupees through the gold monetisation scheme and proposes to use it for “development work” and “renovation”. The minister said in the interview that the gold bars can be brought back if there is need for gold in the temples.

Temple Gold Looted in the Past

Let us see what all can go wrong in this. Palani is one of the six abodes of Subrahmanya. The presiding deity’s murti here is unique as it was created by Bhogar, one of the 18 Siddhars, using navapashanam. Navapashanam is a mixture of nine minerals (pashanam means poison) believed to cure diseases if taken in the right amount. In the 1980s the Tamil Nadu government decided to replace the navapashana murti as it started eroding. 

A proposal was made to cast a new murti weighing 200kg. The murti was to be made of pancha lohas, including gold and silver. The murti was made and installed along with the original navapashana murti. Devotees feared that it was a plan to smuggle out the original murti by placing another murti of the exact same appearance and size(it was later proved true from police investigation). However the new murti’s surface started blackening within a few days of installation.

Meanwhile devotees and religious leaders vehemently opposed the move to place two murtis in the sanctum as it is against Agama shastras. In 6 months due to opposition from devotees and the murti getting blackened, the new murti was shifted to a room and pujas were continued with the original murti. The original murti has indeed corroded to an extent and a committee with ex-CJI of India, Sadhasivam, as it’s chief examined the murti and suggested that abhishekam should be limited to 6 per day to avoid further corrosion. Till then Dhandayuthapani Swami’s murti underwent abhishekam more than 200 times a day.

Later in 2017 when idol wing IG Pon Manickavel investigated into the smuggling of murtis, he came across the Palani incident. Upon investigation it came to be known that the new murti weighing 221kg as against the planned 200kg, didn’t have the necessary amount of gold in it, which is why it turned black. It was proved by the IIT Madras team that examined the murti with advanced technology to determine the amount of metals and elements present in it.

The chief sculptor of TN government, ‘Padma Shri’ Muthaiah Sthapathi and the HRCE officials of Palani temple at that time were arrested by the idol wing. Executive officer K.K.Raja is alleged to be the son-in-law of a minister at that time. He went on to become the chief of TN Public Service Commision. Sthapathi Muthaiah, a renowned stone sculptor, owns a sculpture workshop. He has supposedly exported 1000s of sculptures from his workshop. He suggested and cast the panchaloha murti for Palani temple, despite the fact that his field of work is with stones.

The same Muthaiah was accused of the same crime in making the golden murti of Somaskandar in Kanchipuram Ekambareswar temple. There also he suggested that a new murti should be made as the old one was wearing off. But the new murti weighing 67kg, of which HRCE claimed 5.75 kg is gold, didn’t have even one gram of gold when the idol wing police tested it using Positive Metal Image Identification. What’s more, even the old worn off murti of which 75% was gold, proved to be a fake one as there was not even a bit of gold in it either.

Despite the temple receiving a lot of money and gold in the form of offerings, HRCE had requested devotees to donate money and gold for the new murti. But when asked through an RTI petition, HRCE didn’t answer as to how much gold was received from devotees. Another murti of Ezhavarkuzhali Devi also was found to have no gold.

The original murti of Somaskandar is predicted to be 1600 years old and weighing 117 kg. If it had 75% of gold when tested it must have had 87kg gold. But it didn’t have even 1 gram of gold. 

Other Similar Incidents

Similarly allegations have arisen of misappropriation of 16.5 kg gold and 25kg silver bought for the golden chariot of Rameshwaram Ramanathaswamy temple.

During the idol wing’s investigation of the above cases, many other instances of HRCE’s loot came to light. Idol wing police found that the shikara, vahana, dhwaja stambha of many temples had none or less amount of gold in them even though they underwent renovation in the past few years. Instead of using all the gold obtained from melting ornaments offered by devotees and received as donation from devotees, only gold plating was done. More than 100kg gold is said to have been looted by HRCE officials in this manner.

38kg gold out of the allotted 98 kg gold was looted while plating the shikara of Tiruttani Murugan temple in 2011. It is one of the six abodes of Subrahmanya called AruPadaiveedu

In 2020, Ramanathapuram Ramaswamy temple’s jewelleries were found to have lost 68 gram gold and 25,8111 gram silver respectively. It was attributed to ‘depreciation’ due to time.

In 2020, devotees had complained to HRCE higher officials that the silver palanquin in Kanchi Ekambareswar temple has only the wooden frame now. All the silver plates adorning it are gone, they alleged.

In The Hindu interview when the interviewer asked “How much jewellery do the temples own?” HRCE minister Sekar Babu gleefully replied, “There was six kg of gold when the offerings made to the Mariamman temple at Samayapuram were counted. If six kg of gold could be collected in three months, take into account the offerings made to innumerable temples in the last 10 years. There will be over 1,000 kg.” 

They don’t have an inventory of how much gold is in the temples and they’re already looking to loot the gold that will be offered in the future as well. Even though DMK and ADMK are no different when it comes to temple issues, DMK leaders often claim that they had renovated many temples and conducted consecration in their rule. However later it was revealed that temple land, money and gold were actually looted in the name of renovation. Only time will tell what will happen this time.

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