Marxists as museum pieces – P. Parameswaran

P. Parameswaran“Indian communism, which once held promises of being the alternative to the Congress — remember the slogan ‘After Nehru, Namboodiripad’ — now shows signs of taking the Soviet and east European route to dissolution and disappearance except as skeletons in the museum of history.” – P. Parameswaran

Grave of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery, LondonHigh profile Marxist academicians of Kerala have been taking very keen interest in the sensitive issue of the new findings in the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple. Most of the party leaders have been prudently reticent, obviously for fear of public anger. What the intellectual giants want is to keep all the valuable articles found in the temple vaults in a state museum, for public exhibition. There is nothing unexpected about this, because for them religion, temple and spirituality are all meaningless and dangerous superstitions. Of course the large followers of the party are not with them in this anti-religious attitude. But the intellectuals are a different class. They hardly communicate with the masses, as they still live in an ivory tower of irrelevant theories and obsolete ideologies.

This is neither a new phenomenon nor something peculiar to Kerala or Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple. This is inherent in the communist psyche all over the world. They have put in practice this ideology which prescribes places of worship and religious and devotional items to be exhibited as artefacts in museums. This has happened in the Soviet Union and communist China (both in the mainland and in Tibet). But, in the twists and turns of history in the communist countries the entire process has been since reversed and instead of sacred places turning into museums the party itself has become a big museum, while temples and churches have emerged more powerful than ever.

The Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius in Sergiyev PosadHerbert Genzmer in his catalogue of world-famous holy places published in 2010 considers the monastery of the Holy Trinity at Sergiyev Posad as not only one of the biggest and wealthiest monastic enclaves in Europe but as also the spiritual apex of Russian Orthodox Christianity. After the 1917 October Revolution the communist regime declared that the treasures of the monastery had to be preserved. The monastery was converted into a museum. During the World War II, Russia was threatened by Nazi Germany and communism was immune and incapable to arouse the national consciousness. The Orthodox Church proved to be a catalyst for linking the Tsarist legacy of Russia with Orthodox Christianity for awakening the nation. In 1945 Joseph Stalin returned the monastery to the church and in April 16 1946 service was conducted in the cathedral. But much of its treasures was lost.

This was not an isolated incident of communist regimes annexing wealthy institutions using state machinery and transforming them into museums. The Alexander Nevsky monastery at St Petersburg was famous for its treasures. The communist government demanded that the treasures have to be preserved in a museum. The monastery was transformed into a museum, government office and storeroom. Huge shares of its priceless antiquities were looted according to Richard Cavendish in his UNESCO report on World Heritage Sites published in 2008. After the fall of the communist government in Russia all these monasteries have been declared heritage sites by the UNESCO. But the question is who shall replace the looted treasures from these sites placed in museums in the name of preservation?

Sakya MonestaryOn a descriptive study on Buddhism published by the Oxford University in 2003, Damien Keown describes that the cultural revolution of communist China proved a catastrophe for Buddhism. The Red Guards destroyed Buddhist temples and looted enormous treasures. The Chinese Buddhist Association was founded by the People’s Republic of China on 1953, which promoted a revisionist interpretation of Buddhism according to Marxism-Leninism, insisted the monks to be loyal to the communist party. According to a study by John Powers in 2006, in 1959, 6,000 Buddhist monasteries were destroyed in Tibet by communist China and enormous treasures were robbed under the pretext of keeping them in museums. The treasures of the famous Sakya and Lithang monasteries were looted and then bombed. Numerous historic documents on Buddhism were destroyed.

Smashed Buddha images in a Tibetan gompa.When a team of Tibetans visited China in 1982-83 to retrieve Tibetan artefacts a Chinese official told them in Beijing that most of the statues were destroyed and those of pure gold and silver were taken away. Those of gilded copper, bell metal, red copper brass were ferried to Luyun from where they were eventually sold to foundries in Shanghai, Sichuan, Tai Yun, Beijing and Tianjin. The foundry called Xi-you Qing-shu (precious metal foundry) situated five kilometres to the east of Beijing, alone purchased 600 tons of Tibetan crafted metals. The team found that almost all artefacts taken by other foundries had already been melted down. Religious texts were burnt and mixed with field manure and sacred Mani stones were used for making toilets and pavements. (1996 Official Report of Central Tibetan Administration)

Church of Christ the Saviour in MoscowThe Marxist ideologues and historians have kept an eye on artistically rich and wealthy institutions as a work site for ideological digging. The setting up of museums was politically motivated to interpret the preserved antiquities in accordance with Marxism-Leninism rather than their archaeological and historical context. Vladimir Radyuhin, has pointed out that Russia is witnessing the revival of the Orthodox Church and its gradual establishment as state religion. Radyuhin perceives that the Kremlin promotes the Orthodox Church in order to fill the ideological vacuum that the collapse of communism has created. The steady growth of the church can be comprehended from how the mayor of the Moscow was compelled to withdraw the land offered to ISKON fair construction of a temple following protest from the church. Indeed the government has helped to build new and restore thousands of churches including the cathedral of Christ the Savior near Kremlin, the largest Orthodox Church in the world. As observed by Radyuhin the cathedral stands as a symbol of orthodoxy replacing Marxism-Leninism.

ISKON Ratha festival in Moscow.President Medvedev has emerged as an ardent supporter of the church and was instrumental in giving orthodox theological schools the same status as secular universities. Following the approval in December of a controversial law to restore religious organisations property and assets seized by the communist regime, museums and archives have been compelled to vacate church premises and surrender religious artefacts.

Communist flagIndian communism, which once held promises of being the alternative to the Congress — remember the slogan ‘After Nehru, Namboodiripad’ — now shows signs of taking the Soviet and east European route to dissolution and disappearance except as skeletons in the museum of history. – The New Indian Express, Chennai, July 30, 2011

» P. Parameswaran is director of Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram.

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  1. […] See also Marxists as museum pieces – P. Parameswaran […]

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