Cultural heritage a target in times of strife – Lee Keath

ISIS vandalising Hatra, Iraq

In this image made from an ISIS video posted on YouTube in April 2015, an IS jihadi militant hammers away at a face on a wall in ancient Hatra, a large fortified 3rd century BCE Seleucid (Greek) city in Iraq recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

A nearly 2,000-year-old temple in the Syrian city of Palmyra in August was the latest victim in the Islamic State group’s campaign of destruction of historic sites across the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria.

The group has destroyed ancient buildings and artifacts, as well as shrines to Shiite and Sunni Muslim saints (looting some sites for profit) all in the name of purging what it considers symbols of idolatry to create a society dedicated solely to its extreme and violent interpretation of Islam. The IS campaign has horrified many around the world with a scope of destruction that hasn’t been seen for decades.

Still, it isn’t unprecedented.

Throughout the centuries, invaders, religious fanatics and colonizers have targeted works of art, houses of worship and other pieces of heritage. The goal is often to uproot, eliminate, replace or impose control over the culture and heritage of their opponents. Nearly every ethnic or religious conflict across history has seen at least some cultural destruction, along with genocides like the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews.

Below is a look at some examples:


The Islamic State group’s rabid ideology against shrines and historical sites is rooted in Wahhabism, the ultraconservative Sunni Muslim interpretation preached by Sheikh Muhammed Abd al-Wahhab, who lived in the 1700s in what is now Saudi Arabia. Allied with the powerful Saud family, Abdul-Wahhab’s followers destroyed anything they saw as promoting idolatry or polytheism, including shrines of Shiite and Sufi saints, and the destruction of a major Shiite shrine at Karbala in what is now Iraq. Today, the alliance with Wahhabism remains one of the foundations of rule by the Al Saud royal family.

Protestant Reformation

During the Reformation in 16th century Europe, Protestant preachers railed in sermons against Catholic statues of saints and other religious relics as forms of idolatry. Mobs of Protestants attacked hundreds of Catholic churches, particularly in France, Germany and the Netherlands, destroying statues and images. In England under King Henry VIII, churches were stripped of their relics and riches. The result erased from Europe’s cultural landscape untold numbers of works of art.

Muslim invasion of Spain

During the Muslim invasion of Spain in the 8th century, churches were often destroyed or turned into mosques. Conversely, when Christians took back the peninsula in the centuries-long Reconquista, completed in the 15th century, they destroyed mosques or turned them into churches. Also, after King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella ordered the expulsion of Jews from the peninsula in 1492, synagogues were turned into churches.

Second Jewish Temple, Jerusalem

Roman armies destroyed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. after a revolt against Roman rule. The temple, built 500 years earlier to replace the first temple destroyed by the Babylonians, was the heart of Judaism. The first temple had held the Ark of the Covenant, which vanished after the Babylonian conquest. All that remains of the second temple is its Western Wall, which is today the holiest site in Judaism, located at the base of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

Aztecs’ Templo Mayor

Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, in 1521, bringing to an end the empire that ruled over much of what is now Mexico. To root out the local religion, Cortes ordered temples destroyed, including the Templo Mayor, the giant step pyramid at the center of Aztec spiritual culture, and site of their human sacrifices. The temple was leveled, and a Catholic church built on its remains. Parts of the temple were uncovered in the 1970s during the digging of a metro in Mexico City.


From the 15th to 17th centuries, Benin (in modern-day Nigeria) was one of the grandest capitals in Africa. In the late 19th century, negotiations with the British trying to dominate the area and its trade turned bloody, with Benin’s troops killing a British expeditionary force. In retaliation, British troops captured the city and burned it to the ground, destroying its palaces and religious sites. They also carted off some 2,500 works of art, including bronze and ivory sculptures and plaques and the palace’s carved wooden gate.

Beijing’s Old Summer Palace

During the Second Opium War, waged by Britain and France against China to force it to open up markets and legalize the opium trade, British troops in 1860 destroyed the sprawling Old Summer Palace in retaliation after the Chinese tortured and executed members of a British diplomatic mission. Built some 100 years earlier, the palace was a sprawling complex of palaces, pavilions and gardens filled with works of art. After orders came from Britain’s High Commissioner in China, Lord Elgin (notorious for his looting of marbles from Greece’s Parthenon) it took 3,500 troops three days to burn down and tear apart the palace.

Babri Mosque

Hindu activists tore down the 16th-century Babri Mosque in northern India in 1992, sparking riots across the country that left at least 2,000 people dead. Hindu groups claim the mosque was built after a temple dedicated to the Hindu god King Rama was destroyed by Muslim invaders, though that claim is disputed by some historians. Still, it’s undisputed that over the centuries, Muslim invaders of South Asia did destroy Hindu holy sites. For example, the Somnath Temple in western India was destroyed multiple times by Muslim rulers, the first time in the 11th century.

Modern-day Islamic militants

For decades in the 20th century, Islamic militant groups in the Middle East, including al-Qaida, put little emphasis on destroying shrines or historical sites. But al-Qaida’s ally the Taliban brought back the tactic in dramatic fashion in 2001 when they blew up the two towering 1,500-year-old statues of Buddha carved into a mountain in the Afghan region of Bamiyan, stunning the world.

Since then, the tactic has gained prominence among Islamic extremists as a way to tout their claim to “purify” society and create their vision of an Islamic state. Sunni hard-liners have increasingly attacked shrines across the Middle East.

In the West African nation of Mali, Islamic radicals in 2012 overran Timbuktu, the historic city of Islamic culture. The militants destroyed 14 of the city’s 16 tombs of prominent figures and thinkers and also targeted the library of camel-skin-bound manuscripts dating back to the 13th century that included ancient learning in astronomy, law, history and philosophy. They set fire to the institute where many of the manuscripts were stored, destroying an estimated 4,000, though the majority were successfully spirited out of the city by the library’s custodians. – Herald & Review, 3 October 2015

Aurangzeb's general order for the demolition of Hindu temples (9th April 1669) included the Somnath Temple in Gujarat.

Somnath Temple ruins in 1869.

Somnath Temple

These temples in Pakistan are now madrasas – Haroon Khalid

Chajju Bhagat Temple, Malka Hans, Pakistan, Photo (C) Rida Arif

Chajju Bhagat Temple, Malka Hans, Pakistan Photo (C) Rida Arif

Haroon Khalid “There were old houses located in this street, which must have once belonged to Hindu families living here. I wondered in what condition they must have left their homes in 1947, temporarily locking their doors, perhaps burying their precious belongings, hoping to return one day. They never returned, but perhaps they told their loved ones about their homes they left behind and this temple? Perhaps their survivors have fragments of memories of stories they heard about this temple?” – Haroon Khalid

We stood at the entrance of the temple, not sure if we would be allowed to go inside. It was a double-storey structure with a small round balcony. The door was made of wood with intricate patterns on it, while there were fading remnants of frescoes on the wall. Looking at the entrance, I could only imagine how beautiful this structure must be from the inside. The only problem was that this temple was not vacant. It wasn’t even taken over by an individual family, as has happened in so many cases. In that situation I could have requested them to allow me to see the temple from the inside. But this was now controlled by the women’s wing of an Islamic religious organisation called Minhaj-ul-Quran, founded by the famous preacher turned politician Tahir-ul-Qadri.

I rang the bell not sure what would be the response of the people inside. A young boy emerged at the entrance and after listening to our request disappeared into the house. He returned after a little while, saying that they would not allow the men to enter the temple but the ladies with us could be allowed in. We implored, but the response was final. There was a dars, a lesson of the Quran, under way, in the courtyard, attended only by women. My friend Rida with her camera, and my wife Anam, disappeared into the temple, now an Islamic school.

We were at the historical city of Malka Hans, about 200 kilometres from Lahore, to visit the historical mosque of Waris Shah in the city. Waris Shah is a celebrated Punjabi poet known for re-composing the folk tale of Heer-Ranjha. With his rendition, he managed to leave such a stamp on it that all former versions are forgotten and the story is now known as Heer-Waris. Waris Shah is believed to have written this story in the basement of the mosque at Malka Hans where he used to work as an Imam.

The temple was across the street from the mosque. In Waris Shah’s time in the 18th century, it was not unusual to find a mosque and a temple sharing a wall. Today, of course, that is an anomaly. There are several stories about this relationship between the mosque and the Hindu temple, about Waris Shah and his Hindu beloved who, it is believed, used to come to this temple regularly. The temple belonged to the sect of devotees of Chajju Bhagat, a 17th century Hindu saint from Lahore.

There were old houses located in this street, which must have once belonged to Hindu families living here. I wondered in what condition they must have left their homes in 1947, temporarily locking their doors, perhaps burying their precious belongings, hoping to return one day. They never returned, but perhaps they told their loved ones about their homes they left behind and this temple? Perhaps their survivors have fragments of memories of stories they heard about this temple?

Rida and Anam returned after a little while, ecstatic. “It was a surreal feeling,” said Rida. “There were wooden figures all around the temple, perhaps angels, and sitting under them were these women clad in burqa, reciting the Quran. There were pictures of Hindu deities on the wall while these women talked about the unity of God. No harm had been done to any of these idols or figures on the wall.” These women saw no contradiction in studying Islam in a Hindu temple.

Jain Temple, Multan, Pakistan. Photo (C) Alie Imran

About 200 kilometres from Malka Hans, in the ancient city of Multan believed to have been once ruled by Hiranyakashipu, the tyrant father of Bhakta Prahlada (Bhagat Prahalada, in Punjabi), we saw a similar anomaly. Deep within the walled city, we located a Jain temple. Even before we entered the main room of the temple we could hear a humming sound of children reciting the Quran, memorising it. Inside the hall there were rows of mats with small tables in front of them where children had placed their copies of the Quran, rhythmically moving back and forth as they recited their lesson. In front of them was their teacher, a young man with a black beard and a checkered cloth on his shoulder. A young boy stood behind him massaging his shoulder. The sound of the children came to an abrupt end as we entered the room and all eyes fell on us. “Assalamualaikum,” I said. “Walaikum assalam,” replied everyone in unison. “Can we see and photograph your temple?” I asked. This time, only the teacher replied: “It is all yours.” The students went back to memorising the Quran.

Jain Tirthankara Temple, Multan, Pakistan. Photo (C) Alie Imran

The ceiling of the temple was made with wood, decorated with small pieces of glass. There were beautiful geometrical frescoes on the wall. On one side of the room was a gilded door that led inside the main sanctuary. Near the door were pictures of the 24 tirthankaras, who are supposed to grace each half of the cosmic time cycle in Jain cosmology. I was too lost in the beauty of the temple to notice that the sound of the recitation had stopped. All the children and their teacher had presumably finished their lessons and left the premises.

Later as my friend Iqbal Qaiser and I stood facing the turret of the temple at a shop, drinking a cool bottle of Pepsi, we were told by the shopkeeper that this temple like other temples around Pakistan was also attacked by Muslim fanatics in 1992, in reaction to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in India. However, the administration of the temple was able to dissuade the mob from causing much destruction to the temple. “It is not a temple anymore. It is a madrasa,” they had argued.

Bhagat Prahlad Temple and Shah Rukn-e-Alam Shrine (background), Multan, Pakistan. Photo (C) Alie Imran

Just a little outside the city, located on the top of a mound facing the walled city, once stood the Temple of Bhagat Prahlad, the patron Hindu saint of the city of Multan. The wall of his temple touched the wall of the Muslim saint Shah Rukn-e-Alam’s shrine, the new patron saint of Multan, after the creation of Pakistan. This temple too was being used as a madrasa, when in 1992 a mob headed towards it. Locals report that there was a class going on at the point when fanatics climbed the building and started bringing it down. The madrasa was permanently shut while the temple suffered heavy losses.

Sitla Temple, Lahore, Pakistan. Photo (C) Haroon Khalid

Sitla Temple, Lahore, Pakistan. Photo (C) Haroon Khalid

Same is the story of the Sitla Mandir in Lahore. The missing top of its turret pays testimony to that fateful day. On a niche in a turret there is a plaque that reads “Allah”, as if his presence needed to be noted.

 In the same building, a madrasa is being run. The students of this madrasa had led the charge in 1992. Once the craziness receded, they went back to studying—in the very same building they had vandalised in anger. –, 27 September 2015

» Haroon Khalid is a school teacher in Islamabad and the author of A White Trail. He has also a forthcoming book, In Search of Shiva.

Subramanian Swamy reminds Amit Shah about Ram Temple construction at Ayodhya – Upananda Brahmachari

Amit Shah & Subramanian Swamy

“Amit Shah may take up the issue during Dussera [October] and may declare a new plan for Ram Temple construction at Ayodhya.” – Upananda Brahmachari

Modi & Sri RamaOn the auspicious day of Gurupournima, Dr. Subramanian Swamy, Hindu Think Tank and National Executive member of BJP once again reminded his party president Sri Amit Shah to contemplate over the construction of Sri Ramjanmabhoomi temple at Ayodhya on and from January 1, 2016. Dr. Swamy requested Sri Shah to convene National Executive committee meeting of BJP to resolve the matter, as Swamy wrote a letter to Shah on the matter just on July 20. Both were exchanging their good wishes on the event of Gurupournima Utsav.

Dr. Subramanian Swamy suggested his party president Amit Shah to convene a special session of the National Executive to discuss the Ram Temple whose construction in Ayodhya should begin from January 1st next year. In a letter written on July 20 to Shah, Swamy said BJP should also obtain consent from the court for shifting the structure of a mosque present there.

Dr. R. Nagaswamy with Ayodhya Hindu artefact photo.The Narasimha Rao government, he said, had filed an affidavit before the court that if it is found that a temple pre-existed at the place where Babri Mosque was built then the Ram Janmabhoomi land would be handed over to Hindus for building a temple. Time and again, it has been proved there is a pre-existent temple under the disputed Babri construction. “Thus, our government should declare that from January 1, 2016, the construction project of building a Sri Ram temple in Ayodhya will commence,” he said.

Swamy said he had earlier written to Shah in March urging him to convene a special session of the National Executive to discuss this issue and other commitments made in the BJP”s election manifesto which are close to the hearts of party men and described as ”Hindutva” issues. “I urge therefore now again to schedule a special session of the National Executive. I am sure you will agree that Hindutva is the core issue of the BJP”s ideology and it needs special attention of the party.”

Sonia Gandhi As per occult perception, BJP president has no time now to go through the requests made by Dr. Swamy as his party is in a strangulated position in current Lok Sabha session and they are busy for ensuing Bihar election also. Sri Shah may take up the issue during Dussera [October] and may declare a new plan for Ram Temple construction at Ayodhya.

Many sadhus in Ayodhya, Varanasi and Haridwar are saying that PM Modi and his party may have to face the curse of Lord Sri Ram, if he does not start the construction of Sri Ram Temple immediately.

Experts opine that delay of construction of Sri Ramjanmabhoomi Temple at Ayodhya will cause a big Hindu frustration which may endanger the Hindu vote bank of BJP. – Hindu Existence, 1 August 2015

Sadhus condemn Rajnath Singh for claiming the government can’t order Ram Temple to be built – Piyush Srivastava

Narendra Giri

Piyush Srivastava“‘It is a lame excuse of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. The BJP should first get a Bill on the Ram Temple passed in the Lok Sabha before saying that they will not succeed in the Rajya Sabha,’ said Akhara Parishad president Narendra Giri” – Piyush Srivastava

India Home Minister Rajnath SinghWhen it comes to the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, the All India Akhara Parishad doesn’t mince its words.

Even if that means taking on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre, the saints of the Parishad make their point quite bluntly.

And now they are gunning for Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who recently said that the Modi government doesn’t have enough numbers in the Rajya Sabha to make a law in favour of the Ram Temple.

The Parishad has dared the Union home minister to first get a Bill passed in the Lok Sabha on the Ram Temple in Ayodhya before taking refuge to any “excuse”.

“It is a lame excuse of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. The BJP should first get a Bill on the Ram Temple passed in the Lok Sabha before saying that they will not succeed in the Rajya Sabha,” said Akhara Parishad president Narendra Giri.

Two days ago, the Union home minister had also said in Ayodhya that the government should wait for the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Ram Temple case.

But Giri is in no mood to listen.

“Now it is clear that the BJP is betraying the saints of the country. The vote-bank politics of BJP on Ram Temple had helped it last time during the 2014 parliamentary elections.

“The BJP leaders must understand that they would be dumped once and forever in 2019. The Akhara Parishad will meet in Hardwar on May 25 and 26 to take a final decision on this issue,” Giri said.

Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas chairman Nritya Gopal Dal also rejected Rajnath’s statement and said that the BJP government should come out with a solution.

Hashim Ansari“Whatever Rajnath is saying may be his personal view. We don’t accept the excuse because the BJP is in power only to fulfil the wish of the Hindus to build a Ram Temple at the same site in Ayodhya.

“We are hopeful that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will take a decision in this regard soon,” he said. Former BJP MP Ram Vilas Vedanti also slammed the party.

“The BJP will be in majority in the Rajya Sabha in 2016. We hope that they will bring a law and construct the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. Or else, they will vanish forever.”

But Hashim Ansari, the oldest plaintiff in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case said: “We want the Babri Masjid back, but we hope that this will be done democratically. PM Modi should also strike a balance.” – Mail Online India, 12 May 2015

Dwarka Shankaracharya Swaroopananda Saraswati

Proposed Ram temple in AyodhyaWill build Ram temple in Ayodhya without political help: Dwarka Shankaracharya Swaroopananda – Times of India

Taking a dig at the BJP government, Hindu religious leaders on Tuesday said they will construct Ram temple at the “Lord’s birthplace” in Ayodhya without any political assistance if the Supreme Court gives order in their favour.

The statement came in the wake of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh stating the NDA government can’t bring law on Ram temple without majority in Rajya Sabha.

Addressing the Hindu Dharma Sansad at Ramlila Maidan here on Tuesday, Shankaracharya of Dwarkapeeth Swaroopananda Saraswati asked BJP leaders to stop talking about construction of Ram temple.

“We request you (Singh) with folded hands, don’t talk about Ram Janmabhoomi. We will build Ram temple at the spot,” Shankaracharya said.

Shankaracharya alleged that a section of political class brought in the name of Mughal emperor Babur to gain “political advantage” and said that the court has accepted the fact that Babar had never been to the place. There were remains that proved that it was a place of worship of Hindus, he claimed.

“It is Ram Janmbhoomi and if the Supreme Court gives its verdict soon … because they have agreed it is Ram Janmabhoomi, but some portion has been given to Muslims while their plea has been Sri Ram Lalla Temple, Ayodhyarejected…. If that is decided, then we will … without any political party … the saints, great souls, gentlemen will construct Ram temple at the spot of Lord’s birth.

“And by God’s grace, we won’t need their (politicians) money, people will give us. We will construct temple, you please forgive us. Leave the discussion now,” he added.

The Sansad also passed a resolution in this regard. Amongst other resolutions adopted by the Sansad are for ban on cow slaughter, imparting knowledge of Ramayana and Mahabharata to youngsters at educational institutes, and for imposing ban on alcohol.

Hindu Dharma Sansad is a gathering of various Hindu religious bodies and organizations.

The Sansad also sought to provide relief and help in restoring temples in Nepal which were destroyed in the massive earthquake.

Shankarcharya also said the political class lacked knowledge of Hindu religion.

Referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifting Bhagavad Gita to Japanese emperor Akihito during his visit to the east Asian country in September last year, Shankaracharya quipped that he should rather ensure children across India are taught lessons from the book.

Amongst other demands, the gurus demanded introduction of uniform civil code and abolishing Article 370 of the Constitution which gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

The two-day meet, which concluded tonight, was attended by heads of 13 akhadas across the country. – Times of India, 13 May 2015

Proposed Ram Temple

Contemporary negationists of the Abrahamic doctrine – Bharavi

Aurangzeb's general order for the demolition of Hindu temples (9th April 1669) included the Somnath Temple in Gujarat.

Man Sitting Under Tree Icon“Now, the newly-created Islamic State has been systematically destroying several historical artefacts, shrines and even entire ancient cities, and has been clearly advertising its Islamic motivation time and again. We would like the eminent historians and other ‘progressive thinkers’ who are able to divine the intentions of long-dead tyrants to suggest economic and political solutions to ensure that the Islamic state spares at least a fraction of the historical artifacts that they are targeting.” – Bharavi

Moses and the Golden CalfFor centuries, the Abrahamic predilection for destroying all places and objects of worship save their own, generally inflicting either their religion on the Pagans and visiting gratuitous cruelty on the more recalcitrant ones was honestly ascribed by Abrahamic practitioners to the promptings of immutable doctrine, duly exemplified by the model conduct of a host of self-professed messengers of the Abrahamic deity.

Ironically, this was also one of the few points of tragically short-lived unanimity between the Abrahamic and the Pagan, before the latter was either dispatched hellward or converted into the former.  However, with the rise of the Enlightenment in Europe, Abrahamic doctrines fell into some disrepute among the more thinking type of European who was often prone to attach some value to his/her pre-Abrahamic legacy.

Abrahamic behaviour towards Pagan places and modes of worship received adverse reviews.  Dialectical materialism, itself an Abrahamic heresy as per Bertrand Russell, also mounted a formidable attack on its senior Abrahamic relatives. Initially, this attack was intellectual and later physical, as exemplified by the erstwhile Soviet Union. Thus, apologists of the Jesus-based Abrahamism have been very busy and even formulated ‘Liberation Theology’ to counter the latest prodigal child who was perplexingly a votary of Almighty History, rather than merely the Almighty.

Karl Marx's Grave Highgate LondonIn contrast to the resolute and unshakable intellectual hostility to all activity and thought deemed ‘religious’ by the neo-Abrahamism of Marxist thought, its watered-down version among its votaries living away from proletarian paradises such as the (former) Soviet Union proclaims that ‘it is good to be rich’ (and famous), even if it entails a bit of collusion with the peddlers of one opiate against the peddlers of another.  The allied (senior) Abrahamics often view such voluntary neo-Abrahamic supporters as ‘useful idiots’ to be tolerated in the battle against a greater evil, like unregenerate and incorrigible Paganism, for instance.

A sterling example such an alliance running its course is that of the extinct Iranian Marxists who supported the Islamic revolution in 1979.  Another telling example of such behaviour on a chronic basis is observed among Indian academics who have consciously received this great Marxist baptism, or have unwittingly endured a thorough soaking in the ideological Jordan of their baptized professors and are unaware of any alternative interpretations of reality.  As Francis Xavier astutely noted, children often make better converts than their parents. Thus, deeply felt ideological conviction matures over intellectual generations into a fashionable habit and eventually establishes itself as a persistent reflex.

Thus, the treatment meted out to the Hindu Pagans, and their places and objects of worship by the prophetic-monotheistic tyrants and invaders in India (both foreign and native) under the influence of their monopolistic and monomaniacal doctrines have come in for some creative treatment by those who claim to be ‘objective’ historians. This sometimes takes the form of the said votaries strenuously attributing solely economic motives to all the religiously motivated cleansings of Pagan sanctuaries that allied Abrahamics indulge in as an expression of piety.

The History of India: As told by its own historiansSo, for instance, if Timur or Aurangzeb or Mahmud Ghaznavi are reported to have destroyed the ‘idolators of Hind’ as part of their Islamic mission by their admirers, or even claim this distinction themselves in their autobiographical notes, it is creatively interpreted as a cover for allegedly more durable and relevant political and economic motives.  Of course, the Hindu Pagans can keep brandishing Eliot and Dowson’s The History of India: As Told by its Own Historians till the final deluge of Pralaya, but one of the qualifications for being an eminent historian is the quality of having dispensed with introspection, perhaps because it is a hated Pagan practice anyway.

Strictly speaking, assuming that we don’t take at face value the ancient authors, who are prone to exaggerate at the drop of a hat, you can insinuate what is termed ‘reasonable doubt’ in the legal sense.  After all, the ancient tyrants are not around to explain themselves as to what exactly their intentions and calculations were, and whether they and their panegyrists were merely dissimulating to provide a research topic that could keep modern Indian historians enmeshed in a semblance of frenetic academic activity that keeps them off the streets.

Now, this is where a major opportunity has arisen for our dialectical materialist historians and assorted “interrogators of complex and nuanced historical narratives” to carry out some experimental work in the social sciences, as it were.

ISIS destroys Assyrian winged bull in MosulNow, the newly-created Islamic State has been systematically destroying several historical artefacts, shrines and even entire ancient cities, and has been clearly advertising its Islamic motivation time and again. We would like the eminent historians and other ‘progressive thinkers’ who are able to divine the intentions of long-dead tyrants to suggest economic and political solutions to ensure that the Islamic State spares at least a fraction of the historical artifacts that they are targeting.  For example, these eminent historians could start by offering to buy some or all of the museum holdings that are imperilled by the ongoing ISIS iconoclasm.  These could then be turned over to one of our own national museums to be held in trust for all of humanity.

With due apologies to Marx (not Groucho), for too long have our historians been content with describing the dead ancients—the point is to change your live contemporaries. – IndiaFacts, 1 May 2015

Following the example of the Prophet, ISIS "assassinates" the priceless heritage of Mesopotamia.

Monetising temple gold: the VHP view – Ashok Chowgule

Ashok Chowgule“An important point in the debate is that there should be a clear recognition that the wealth of the temples is the property of the deity, and not that of the temple management.  It has been provided to the deity out of devotion by the followers, without anyone forcing them to do so.  It has been provided out of the hard-earned money by the followers.”  – Ashok Chowgule

Gold-covering in the Guruvayur Sri Krishna TempleFor the last few years, there has been a talk in the media about monetising the temple gold to help solve some of the economic problems our country is facing.  Such suggestions were made earlier also.  The Vishwa Hindu Parishad would like to provide its views on the subject. 

The debate misses one major issue – namely, a discussion how the country landed itself in the mess it undoubtedly is in.  If we do not do this analysis, then we are not going to find solutions of an enduring nature.  It is also necessary to identify those (whether politicians, the ‘analysts’, etc.) who created the mess.  The objective of this second exercise is to ensure that there is a principle of accountability.  They were entrusted with the task of managing the economy, and the society paid them handsome salaries, well above the average national wage, for it.  Either they should publicly admit their mistake, explain why they made the mistake and ask for forgiveness, or they should be kept outside the system so that they cannot continue to do any more mischief. 

There is the story of a person who was looking for something under the light of an electric post.  When a passer-by asked him what he was looking for, he said it is the keys to the car.  After helping to search for a few minutes, the passer-by asked the other person where he could have lost the keys.  The latter said in the market place.  Surprised, the passer-by asked why is he looking under the electric pole.  The answer was that it is now dark in the market place. 

VishnuAnother important point in the debate is that there should be a clear recognition that the wealth of the temples is the property of the deity, and not that of the temple management.  It has been provided to the deity out of devotion by the followers, without anyone forcing them to do so.  It has been provided out of the hard-earned money by the followers.  

There are some allegations that some of the money is made illegitimately by the follower.  The deity has no way to know this, and it is the task of the concerned government authorities to take suitable action against the follower, by following the due process of the law.  The deity will not put any obstacles in the way of the authorities. 

We will not be letting out a state secret if we state that the economic mess is not the creation of the Hindu Samaj.  In fact, we can clearly state that the mess has been created by those who have an ideological opposition to the Hindu philosophy and civilisation.  They instituted a system of governance and economic management that was alien to the cultural norms of the Hindu civilisation. 

NehruWhat is worse is that when their plans turned out to be a disaster for the nation, they had no qualm of blaming the Hindus.  In the late 1970s, when the planners were asked why India was growing at the rate of 3% from 1947 till then, Prof Raj Krishna, one of the economists who was part of the system that managed the economy, absolved the real culprits and coined the term ‘Hindu Rate of Growth’, so that the blame is apportioned to the Hindus instead.  His ideological colleagues lapped it up, and those occupying the intellectual space, also being of the same ideological disposition, found it to be a rational explanation for the then depressing situation.  If there was even an iota of intellectual honesty amongst these supposed intellectuals, they would have admitted their mistakes.  The Hindus would not have asked them to return the salaries that were paid to them – the Hindus are magnanimous to a fault. 

A letter writer to The Sunday Times of India, R. C. Mody, has nicely put in a few word what Prof Raj Krishna meant.  Shri Mody wrote: “The term was coined … to describe the inability of the Indian economy to grow at more than a modest 3 per cent per annum, through a large part of the planning period, when other economies were growing at a much faster pace. He attributed this to the philosophical temperament of most Indians, their belief in contentment and lack of killer instinct.”  (August 6, 2000) 

No one asked Prof Krishna how did the Hindus who settled abroad, and with minimal financial resources, acquired the necessary killer instinct to do well for themselves.  No one asked him in the 1980s, when there were some feeble attempts to remove the shackles on the Hindu entrepreneurship, how did the same Hindus in India acquire the necessary philosophical temperament to achieve a growth rate of 5%.  

Prof Krishna passed away in early 1990s, so he could not be asked what happened to the Hindus when they decided to grow by 7% and subsequently by 9%.  But then, and importantly, those who accepted the term thoughtlessly never even considered that they should explain to the Hindus, and the nation, why they did not question Prof Krishna’s rationalisation.  Many of them still think that blaming the Hindus for the low growth rate till 1980 is truthful.  

K. R. MalkaniOf course, there were many in the Hindu Right Wing, in particular amongst the activists of many of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh organisations, who did put the issue in the right perspective.  One of them was K. R. Malkani of the BJP.  But, as is happening today, their views were censored by those who controlled the gates of the main stream information flow, for purely ideological reasons.  It would have been most uncomfortable for them to allow the people to know the truth. 

The true spirit of the Hindu entrepreneurship in India has been captured by Paul Johnson when he wrote: ‘Under the socialist regime of Jawaharlal Nehru and his family successors the state was intolerant, restrictive and grotesquely bureaucratic. That has largely changed (though much bureaucracy remains), and the natural tolerance of the Hindu mind-set has replaced quasi-Marxist rigidity.’ (‘Want to Prosper? Then be Tolerant’, Forbes, June 21, 2004.) 

John Kenneth GalbraithA similar observation was made by the late Prof John Kenneth Galbraith in the early 1960s, when he said that India is a functioning anarchy.  Though he was criticised for it, he had actually meant it in a positive way.  When, in 2001, he was asked about this term, the professor said: “I wanted to emphasise the point, which would be widely accepted, that the success of India did not depend on the government. It depended on the energy, ingenuity and other qualifications of the Indian people. And the Indian quality to put ideas into practice. I was urging an obvious point that the progress of India did not depend on the government, as important as that might be, but was enormously dependent on the initiative, individual and group – of the Indian people. I feel the same way now (as I did some forty years ago) but I would even emphasise it more. We’ve seen many years of Indian progress, and that is attributable to the energy and genius of the Indian people and the Indian culture.” (Outlook, August 20, 2001) 

It was this spirit of entrepreneurship that enabled the Hindus to make the best us of the opportunities wherever available.  During the socialist regime, it was not just Jawaharlal Nehru and Prof Krishna who were the offenders.  There were others, including the previous prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh.  Those who blamed, and continue to blame, the Hindus for the 3% growth rate till 1980 hail him as a liberaliser.  However, he has never admitted his own role in creating and managing the socialist regime.  And, hence, whatever little he did was not on the basis of conviction but responding to a situation.  Dr Singh was trying to find the keys under the lights of the electric pole and not where they were lost. 

The Hindus have proved their willingness to make sacrifice for the well-being of the nation, and will work hard to utilise the little opportunities to open up the economy.  They will not demand that they should be given the first right over the resources of the nation.  Nor will they blow up even the truly communal attacks against them out of proportion.  The Hindus have the necessary sense of moderation, and know that it is the nation that should come first. 

Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious Charitable Endowments DepartmentBut, if they are continued to be held responsible for the economic mess, the Hindus will speak out – with much politeness but without sacrificing truthfulness.  They will point out that the managements of the temple are in the hands of the politicians who have zero interest of the devotees at heart.  They will point out that even today the cash donations are deposited in government securities, which the state governments are using as a budgetary support, to cover their own financial profligacy.  They will point out that the government control of the temples has been abused by the various political parties, particularly those who wear the badge of secularism proudly on their sleeves, for dispensing favours to their supporters.  They will point out that the politicians have done very little for the temples themselves, barring a few notable examples like what Shri Jagmohan did for the Vaishno Devi Temple in Jammu & Kashmir. 

In 1962 when China attacked India, the Hindus made the sacrifice, even to the extent of some Hindu women donating their mangal sutras to help preserve our nation and hence our civilisation.  They did the same in 1971, when India had to help the people of Bangladesh to overthrow the tyranny that was unleashed on the people of that country.  They will do so even now.  But they want to know what is being done for the real problems that exist. 

Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh & Pranab Mukerjee, P. ChidambaramAgain, it is not a state secret that the previous UPA government, over a period of ten years, was responsible for the present state of the Indian economy.  While all this was happening, ‘analysts’ who today make loud proclamations of the mess, did not raise their voices.  Many of these ‘analysts’ are projecting that monetising of the temple gold will solve the problem.  This is absurd.  Even before thinking about monetising the temple gold, there are many small and simple steps that the government can take.  

The VHP would like the government to initiate these steps.  True reforms are not just relating to opening the economy for foreign investment, going even to the extent of disfavouring the Indian investor. True reforms are removing the shackles that are applied in the day-to-day running of the business.  True reform means to trust the Hindus that they will do good for the nation, rather than forcing them to ask permissions, particularly from those politicians who work hard against the interest of the Hindus. 

NGOThe VHP would like the government to control the five-star activists, who work under the label of NGOs, and receive funds from abroad.  There are many NGOs who are working in a silent manner, receiving support from the Hindus in India and abroad, who are doing yeoman service to the society.  But the ones who are publicity-seeking hounds undertake their activities only for their own pecuniary benefit. 

Bias in the Indian mainstream media.The VHP would like the government to ask the newstraders (we would not go to the extent of calling them prestitutes, though it may not be an inappropriate term) if they want to help the government to work towards improving the society.  Or do they think that it is their dharma to use all sorts of means (even if they are grossly unethical and unprofessional) to try and put political obstacles in the way of the NDA government.  They have to be reminded that they are able to maintain their luxurious life style only by the funds provided by the society, either directly or indirectly.  They have to be told that their loyalty should be to the society and not to their ideology. 

In a recent address to the office-bearers of the VHP, Bhayyaji Joshi, the Sarkaryavah of the RSS, said that India does not seek to be a super power. India would like to be a responsible and contributing power.  The VHP knows that there are many in the present government who have the true interests of the society in their heart.  The VHP would like to be a part of the process which will lead to once again realising the greatness of our civilisation. – Hindu Vivek Kendra, 16 April 2015

» Ashok Chowgule is the Working President (External) of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, India.

UPA Economics Dept

India’s rich temples may open gold vaults for Prime Minister Modi – Meenakshi Sharma & Krishna N. Das

Sri Siddhivinayak Ganpati

Reuters “Some Hindu devotees are not happy with the idea that their gold offerings could be melted down. A Mumbai-based gold merchant, who said he and his father had donated around 200 kg of gold to Siddhivinayak and other temples over the years, said it would be a sin for the temples to earn interest on the gold offered to the Gods. ‘I make donations to God; not to any temple trust,’ the 52-year-old merchant said.” – Meenakshi Sharma & Krishna N. Das

Sri Siddhivinayak TempleThe two-century-old Shree Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai devoted to the Hindu elephant-headed god Ganesha bristles with close circuit cameras and is guarded by 65 security officers.

It is one of India’s richest temples, having amassed 158 kg of gold offerings, worth some $67 million, and its heavily guarded vaults are strictly off-limits.

India is the world’s biggest consumer of gold and its ancient temples have collected billions of dollars in jewellery, bars and coins over the centuries – all hidden securely in vaults, some ancient and some modern.

Padmanabhaswamy Temple GopuramA few years ago a treasure of gold worth an estimated $20 billion was discovered in secret subterranean vaults in the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Kerala state.

Now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to get his hands on this temple gold, estimated at about 3,000 tonnes, more than two-thirds of the gold held in the U.S bullion depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky, to help tackle India’s chronic trade imbalance.

Modi’s government is planning to launch a scheme in May that would encourage temples to deposit their gold with banks in return for interest payments.

The government would melt the gold and loan it to jewellers to meet an insatiable appetite for gold and reduce economically crippling gold imports, which accounted for 28 percent of India’s trade deficit in the year ending March 2013.

India’s annual gold imports of 800 to 1,000 tonnes could be cut by a quarter if temples decided to participate in the scheme, say government and industry sources.

“We would be happy to deposit our gold to nationalised banks if the policy is beneficial, safe and earns good interest,” said Narendra Murari Rane, chairman of the trust for the Siddhivinayak Temple, portions of which are gold-plated.

Gold CoinsBut some Hindu devotees are not happy with the idea that their offerings could be melted down.

A Mumbai-based gold merchant, who said he and his father had donated around 200 kg of gold to Siddhivinayak and other temples over the years, said it would be a sin for the temples to earn interest on the gold offered to the Gods.

“I make donations to God; not to any temple trust,” the 52-year-old merchant said.

Modi would also like to convince Indians to open their family vaults, which hold an estimated 17,000 tonnes of gold in jewellery and other heirlooms.

But it will be much harder to convince Indian families, who sometimes have little faith in financial institutions, to break tradition and hand over gold passed down the generations.

India’s love affair with gold spans centuries is rooted in the Hindu religion. One of the biggest annual buying seasons is the Diwali festival around October to November. Gold marriage dowries are widespread and with 70 percent of the population rural, gold is financial security.

Interest Rate Key

Key to Modi’s plan will be the interest rates offered for gold deposits.

A similar gold monetization plan launched in 1999 proved ineffective, in part because the interest rates offered on gold deposits were regarded by temple officials as too low.

Under that scheme India’s top lender the State Bank of India offers 0.75 percent to 1 percent and only 15 tonnes of gold has been deposited so far.

Sai Baba Temple, ShirdiTemple officials at Siddhivinayak and Shri Saibaba Sansthan in Shirdi, both in the western state of Maharashtra, say they expect interest rates in the new scheme to be much higher and so would consider participating.

The government plans to reveal rate details when it launches the new scheme. Siddhivinayak’s Rane said he expected at least 5 percent interest on gold deposits.

Rajendra Jadhav, executive officer of the Shri Saibaba Sansthan Temple Trust, said rates will also be key to his temple’s decision. He declined to say how much gold the temple, dedicated to a 19th century saint, had in its vaults.

A successful gold monetization programme could go a long way in helping India reduce its trade imbalance.

India raised the import duty on gold, the country’s biggest non-essential import, and imposed other restrictions in 2013 after the current account deficit hit a record $190 billion.

If India can cut imports, that would pressure gold prices that fell to a four-month low last month before recovering. Lower gold prices will help India cut its import bill.

Sri Padmanabhaswamy's TreasureHowever, a successful scheme could also expose the government to potential risks, if gold prices were to take off and depositors decided to withdraw at the same time.

“There is going to be a lock-in period under the new gold monetizing scheme,” said Sudheesh Nambiath, an analyst at precious metals consultancy GFMS. “Banks will have to replenish the stocks with imports later (if temples withdraw gold).” – Reuters, 9 April 2015

» Editing by Paritosh Bansal and Michael Perry.

Se Cathedral, Old Goa, Goa

We trust that the Modi Sarkar will hit the Churches too, for their gold and silver and jewels, or simply tap their vast commercial real estate holdings. That would only be fair. A truly secular and even-handed government would not want to be seen coveting Hindu gold only—would it? – Admin

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