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Indian Culture And Traditions

The USD 20 Billion Indian Gym For The MIND
By Ram Lingam, August 2011 [[email protected]]

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More than $20 billion worth of wealth in a temple! That’s the account  of hidden wealth in the 8th century Shree Ananta Padmanābhaswāmy  temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. But this abundance of wealth is not  unusual in the history of some Indian temples. While ancient Indian temples were  built as spiritual gymnasiums for the mind, they also had enormous wealth to consistently  provide an opportunity for spiritual development. But there are other types of  wealth in the ancient Indian temples that are much more valuable than its  material wealth. What’s that?

India has thousands of temples  that are thronged by millions of people. If there is anything great and  concrete that has survived the rigors and ravages of time in India, it is its  temples. Of the thousands, there are many ancient temples which have a deep  history and fascinating traditions. It is here that famous sages got their Darshan  (ultimate insight) of the ‘Absolute Truth’.  The word Mandir comes from Sanskrit root  Mandaté, which means to be filled with transcendent emotion, to delight, to  shine.

India has many spectacular  temples that have found a place in the World Heritage list. These include the Sun  Temple at Konārk in Odisha (previously known as Orissa), Khajurāho Temples in  Madhya Pradesh, Ajantā Cave temples & Kailāshnath temple in Ellora, Mahārāshtra,  Brihadeswara Temple in Tanjavuur and Sānchi Stupa in Bhopal.

Every ancient temple in India  gives a glimpse of the continuous Indian civilisation and speaks of a golden era  when India was at the vanguard of civilization. They were such great storehouses  of wealth that barbarous invaders like Mahmud of Ghazni invaded the Somnath  temple in Gujarat 17 times only to loot the temple’s wealth every time. It is  said Mahmud’s loot was worth some 20-million Dinars (1200 years ago). It is  well known that the Portuguese traveler Vasco Da Gama also looted from India’s  temples and sailed back with ships full of gold.

The Shree Ananta Padmanābhaswāmy  temple caught our attention not for of its heritage but due to the hidden  wealth (more than Rs.1,00,000 crores = over $20 billion) which incidentally is more  than India's annual education budget. Overnight this temple is touted as the  richest temple in India, if not in the world.  A newspaper report says that this wealth would  easily displace the Vatican, which is estimated to own about $15 billion in  wealth. Some say this wealth could be over worth over $100 billion.

Anyway, it was this Shree Ananta Padmanābhaswāmy  temple that gave its name to Kerala’s state capital Thiruvananthapuram  (mispronounced as Trivandrum) which is made up of 3 words - ‘Thiru’ + ‘Anantha’  + ‘Puram’ meaning “Sacred Abode of Lord Anantha Padmanābha” who is the main  deity of the temple.

Three types of temple  wealth…
  It is generally observed that many  ancient and big temples had three types of wealth – (1) the deity (2) the  cultural assets like architecture, art, artifacts etc and (3) material wealth  that belongs to the temple like land, gold, money that can be made liquid cash etc.

The temple primarily exists  because of the deity. Normally the history of the temple (found in its sthala  purāna) explains why the temple exits in the first place. The ‘deity’ and the  ‘cultural assets’ pass from generation to generation and these two types of  wealth are considered  much more valuable  and mystical than the material wealth ($20 billion+!!) belonging to the deity.

The first and the greatest wealth  of any temple is the “deity” who is invoked and worshipped by devotees as the  manifestation of the one Supreme God. In Vedic tradition, there is no greater  wealth than God. Hence God is addressed as ‘Bhagavān’ meaning one who has infinite  ‘bhaga’ i.e. ‘opulence’. Bhagavān is one who has all the 6 kinds of opulences  that of richness, fame, strength, influence, beauty and wisdom. Pretty much all  wealth is covered including material wealth.

The name of the deity speaks  volume of the eternal nature of Godhead. In the Shree Padmanābhaswāmy temple,  the deity is Lord Vishnu. ‘Vishnu’ is derived from the root word ‘Viś’ meaning  "presence everywhere" (as God pervades everything i.e. vevesti, he is  called Vishnu). The root ‘Vis’ also means to enter. Masters have explained that  “That which pervades everything is Vishnu” just like Gold pervades all gold  ornaments. Lord Vishnu is personified in a unique symbology called ‘Padmanabha’  meaning ‘Lotus-navelled’ which has deep and esoteric meaning.   
  The deity being central, the temple  complex and design, its art and Vedic architecture form the second type of  wealth i.e. the temple’s cultural assets. This also includes the esoteric  traditions, the mystical diagrams, installed yantras which function as  revelatory conduits of eternal truths, the secrets and life lessons hidden in  the sculptures, the legends, the miracles, the traditions, the spiritual iconography,  the gopuram with all the symbolic carvings etc.

These symbolic and metaphorical arts  bring to light the universal meanings of truth beneath the ancient exterior  which is extolled to be much more enduring that material wealth. These are the  real subtle wealth that temples provide free of charge to devotees.

Thus ancient Indian temples were  not only places of invocation and worship but also art which was considered as an  expression of the divine. The major temples in ancient India were more known  for their encouragement of arts and learning than just places of worship.  Hence, in old Indian temples, all the amenities were available like hall,  performance areas, pond within the complex, art work, dorms and the architects  & sculptors made sure the public ultimately noticed the messages through  art.

Thus the spectrum of wealth  originates from the sanctum sanctorum (Garba Graha) right to the exterior art  on the outer boundaries of the temple. From the temple’s peripheral wall to the  deity’s central sanctorum is the invitation for the mind to take flight from  the gross to the subtlest. Art is the methodology used in this mandir for  spiritual development.

The mystical knowledge that the  temple deity and the exterior art present is the real wealth that seems to miss  our attention in the glare of the material world. No government, trust board or  King can claim this. It is available ‘free’ for anybody who is interested in the  timeless essence. No lawsuit is necessary to claim this.

The  author is from Mumbai, India and has made New Zealand his home for more than a  decade. He is a keen Indology enthusiast and has specific interest in the  wisdom traditions and perennial philosophy of India.

Also read: 
Kerala Temples of Gloom - 
Why should State Govts control temples -
A looming disaster -

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