Gold of God

Indian Mythology 14 Comments

Published in Devlok, Sunday Midday, July 31, 2011


Every time I visited the temple of Jagannath in Puri, Orissa, my aunts would tell me of huge treasures buried somewhere deep under the temple, protected by serpents. We believed it, as much as we believe Hogwarts, a fascinating and fantastic tale that did not have to be true. But now, a vast treasure has been discovered in the vaults of the Padmanabha-swami temple in Kerala, and I have started to wonder if there is more to the tales of my aunts.

I visited the grand Padmanabha-swami temple over a decade ago. Like most temples in Kerala it evokes a primal experience very simply by not allowing electricity into the sanctum sanctorum and insisting that men enter the temple wearing unstitched cloth. So you see stone and gold and lotus flowers and murals in the flickering light of lamps, and feel overawed.

What struck me most was the design of the shrine. The deity is the reclining Vishnu from whose navel (nabhi) rises a lotus (Padma) in which sits Brahma, the creator of the world. The image is massive and cannot be seen in a single glance. It has to be seen through three doors: the first showing his hand, the second his navel and the third his feet. This is to draw attention to the limitations of the finite human mind. At any one moment, we can comprehend only a part of the whole, never the whole, because the whole is God, who is infinite.

Of course, the scientific mind and the economist mind and the historian mind, dominated by the left half of the brain, and consumed by logic, is dismissive of such wisdom and focuses on the ‘reality’ of the wealth locked in the temple vault. Who does it belong to? Will corrupt politicians lay their hands on it? Will people benefit from it? Will it stagnate as a museum of the past or help the future Indian economy by being invested in the market? Nobody is asking the question, why was so much wealth given to God, rather than being invested in the kingdom?

Wealth and property are unnatural concepts, manmade creations, enforced through laws and courts. We own a piece of land only when it is registered and acknowledged by the court of the land. Only humans can write wills and bequeath their property to another human being.

Yet, many humans refuse to pass on their wealth to others – not even to their family, or friends. They prefer passing it on to non-human entities, for example an institution. An institution can be either secular like a charitable institution or an educational institution or the nation state, or it can be a religious institution like a church or a temple. What makes people prefer institutions over humans?

Is it because they have lost faith in humanity? Could it because they have been a victim of the corrupting influence of wealth and do not wish to inflict it on others? Or is devotion to a deity so intense that the plight of fellow humans has become a blind spot?

Wealth has no value when it lies buried in a vault. Yet even today gold is poured into temples: gold thrones for mystics, diamond studded shawls for gods, mobile phones and cars to goddesses. People who do this often are uncomfortable handing over a sliver of their fortune to a person they know. Clearly, this is a manifestation of a lifetime of disappointment with fellow human beings: cruel sons, careless daughters, loveless spouses, greedy siblings, treacherous servants. And so through donation there is a final rejection of humanity and submission to that one entity, who cannot ever fail or talk back – God.

  • Gaurav Ahuja

    Nice post…..Shows how important is for a human being to trust and help others even though they be careless or loveless….Because its only trust and love which can bring divinity in them….Also, your post clearly implies that there’s no god inside temples or in idols..God is actually inside human being and one can evolve it only by displaying empathy in every walk of life….

  • vijay

    simply amazing..very well articulated

  • aarthi raghavan

    Hi Devduttji,
    What you say is absolutely true. Even I don’t know whom I should believe and whom I should. I don’t even feel like or dream of owning any property. So, I see that there are people who think like me too.

  • Deepankar Sinha

    Hi Devdutt,

    There is one confusion I need you to clarify for me. In Vishnu Purana, Vishnu wakes up and tells Brahma and Shiva that they are the creator and the destroyer respectively. In Shiva Purana, Shiva comes in the form of Linga and tells Brahma and Vishnu what to do. Which one is correct? Which God actually created the world?

    Deepankar Sinha.

    • Devdutt

      Why should there be only one truth?

      • Deepankar Sinha

        Why are there so many versions of how the universe has been created? Does this tell us something or just a random coincidence of many authors/poets?

        • aarthi raghavan

          Well, I don’t know if I’m correct, but the Puranas are something that was retold for centuries. So, I guess people must have added up something to it. According to me, believe in what you think seems to be the truth!

  • Thought provoking. Sometime back I read about how Oprah and others are leaving huge amount for their pets. Was wondering why? This article gave me an interesting viewpoint – “And so through donation there is a final rejection of humanity”

    And Wealth is just maya par jiske liye sab bhagte hain aur kehte hain “mein aaya mein aaya” (Wealth is just illusion but everyone chases it saying I am coming I am coming)

  • Giriraj Bhatia

    Nice article Sir!

    Well in our parts there is a saying that there are only 3 uses of wealth.

    1) Daan 2) Bhog & 3) Naash.

    That is either you can use wealth for your needs and wants, you can give it to someone as charity for them to fulfill there needs and wants and lastly it can be wasted and cannot be used by anybody.

  • Aman

    Firstly,in case one is donating to a temple which makes it’s foremost duty to serve the poor , it is perfectly okay to donate to the temple. This happens in case of Gurudwaras (which have an excellent humanitarian system called Langars),Sai Mandirs , and many other temples.There is an excellent temple of Gajanan Maharaj of Shegao whose foremost duty is to serve the poor. In such cases the temple is no different from charitable institutes. I don’t see why there should be a problem in letting institutes do the work of charity. It isn’t necessary that one goes and manually does good to people. why should outsourcing of charity be offensive?

    But as we see there are many temples which make no use of the donations for centuries. And simply stockpile the money. So in such cases clearly the person donating is not wishing to do good to any human but is wanting to please God.
    The whole idea of donating to “God” seems to be to be foolish.Even if you are a strong believer of God.
    God is the creator of the heaven and earths he/she/it is the alpha and omega. What does he/she/it need of your puny gold ?

    Such people donate to God not by a sense of doing good to the universe , but by a desire to do their own soul some good. Why not book a seat to heaven or ensure a good rebirth, no matter how vain it is to do so.

  • Swaminathan venkataraman

    Devdutt misses one practical reason why this wealth was hidden away. To protect it from Islamic invaders. But I agree that donating to temples in general has been a tradition to support religious activities and some charity. I doubt Hindu temples sought to accumulate such massive treasures intentionally….

    • Santhosh

      What would the muslim invaders do if the wealth was distributed and invested

  • Sandeep

    How one chooses his/ her wealth behind is their own prerogative and hence it is call “WILL”. What gives me the right to analysize the motives or pass judgement?

    It’s upto to the person to decide if they are leaving their wealth to family, stranger or donate it to an institute.

    “What makes people prefer institutions over humans?” – People always give to “people” for people. When someone is donating their wealth to a temple, Mosque or Church, they are well aware that its not the God/image or statue that they are donating to, but to people of faith behind that entity who are going to be accountable for that wealth.

    Also, Institute (not institution) is cluster of people following a mission or cause, and supporting such institute is ultimately for the greater good and for benefit of the society.

    Why are we so apologetic and in denial when we talk about religion and religious beliefs, by supporting a temple/ mosque or church, one ensures that their faith is passed onto the next generation.

    By decisiding to support a temple’s / mosque’s or a church’s efforts in religious studies,lierature research,or building a space for the community to come together for their religious/ spiritual needs, I am NOT waiving off my rights to allow anyone to question whether my intentions were to reserve a seat in heavan or previliaged re-birth.

  • sanjaykumar sahare

    Good thought.