A couple of my recent posts appreciating the perspective of a capable Western observer on the topic of India, combined with my family’s pending celebration of Thanksgiving in a foreign land (as per our tradition), got me thinking: what news item in India since living here am I most grateful for.
No hesitation. It has to do with the aftermath of a discovery in July. The discovery happened not too far from where we live, in the foundations of a Hindu temple. The descriptions were remarkable on their own, in part just because of the difference between journalistic style in the culture where I grew up (fourth estate and all) versus India’s journalistic flourish:
…gold, jewels, and other treasures were unearthed in the vaults of the temple. Several 18th century Napoleonic era coins were found, as well as a three-and-a-half feet tall gold idol of Mahavishnu studded with rubies and emeralds, and ceremonial attire for adorning the deity in the form of 16-part gold anki weighing almost 30 kilograms (66 lb) together with gold coconut shells, one studded with rubies and emeralds…
It is estimated that the value of the monumental items is close to Rupees 1 trillion (US$22.3 billion), making it the richest temple in the world. If the antique value is taken into account, this treasure will be worth 10 times the current market price.
I saw this photograph of the temple where the discovery happened on every news paper cover at every news stand for a couple days in early July:
My gratitude is for a remarkable decision first described in The Times of India:
Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy said the treasure would remain with the temple. “The wealth belonged to the temple and it will be preserved where it was found. There is religious and historical significance to the findings. The state will ensure its security,” Chandy told reporters on Sunday.
The family–of royal heritage that has served as guardian of the temple for centuries–who actually made the decision announced by the chief minister, was the source of my gratitude. Even though royalty is no longer officially recognized in India, their role with the temple is, and so the treasure in some sense was considered to be their property.
The elderly man who would have been king, the head of that family, said publicly that the treasure was exactly where it belonged, and he hoped it would remain there forever as per the expectations of the generations of gift-givers who endowed the temple. I learned from local friends that he is of modest means, living simply. He clearly has no interest in this as treasure. It is patrimony to him, with stewardship responsibilities attached. If there is such a thing as noblesse oblige, this would be an example of it.