Devaprasnam or astrological investigation into the will of God is a common practice in the temples of Kerala. Astrologers use their various techniques to ascertain the will of God and then interpret it for the benefit of lesser mortals like us. The truth or otherwise of astrology or devaprasnams is not the subject matter of this Article and therefore we will not delve into that aspect.
Previous Devaprasnam that received prominence in news was the infamous one conducted at Sabarimala Temple. Mr Unnikrishna Panicker who conducted the Devaprasnam at Sabarimala Temple came out with astounding revelations that shocked the devotees. He disclosed that the God was upset because a lady had entered the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Temple, while entry of ladies into the temple premises itself is banned. Very soon the Kannada film actress Ms Jayamala owned up the ‘crime’ and declared that it was she who accidently fell into the sanctum sanctorum while praying before the Deity.
Very soon it was established that the revelation and the claim of Jayamala were nothing but a crude conspiracy between the fading actress and the astrologer. This incidence dented people’s faith to some extent, in the devaprasnam ritual.
However, one more devaprasnam took place in Kerala, in the last week. This devaprasnam generated high level of interest not only in Kerala but all over India and even abroad, as this is related to the now famous treasure unearthed in Sri Padmanabha Swamy Temple, at Tiruvanathapuram, the capital city of Kerala (For details read my earlier post on Travancore Treasure).
The unearthing of treasure in the Temple was a result of the ongoing legal tussle in the Supreme Court of India. It was in pursuance of an order of the Supreme Court that some of the underground vaults were opened by a committee appointed by the Court itself. One vault named ‘Vault B’ is yet to be opened. Supreme Court has now appointed another Committee for making the inventory of the assets and for its valuation. Court is continuing its hearing in the case.
In the meanwhile, the custodians of the temple, the Royal family of Travancore, arranged a devaprasnam to be conducted in the Temple. Its findings suggested the anger of deity about various aspects of temple administration including opening of the vaults. It warned against any attempt to open the Vault B. It was revealed that it would cause complete extinction of the clan of any person making an attempt to open vault B! It would even cause political instability in Kerala!
Role of the Royal family
The role of royal family, being the custodian of the Temple and therefore custodian of the treasure, has been under intense scrutiny since the unearthing. One stream of opinions holds them in high esteem for protecting the wealth of God for such a long time, in a selfless manner, without trying to pilfer it for their own personal use. The honesty and loyalty of the family have been praised and held out as great examples to emulate.
The other stream of opinions is not that charitable to the Royal family. They say these assets were accumulated from the people’s wealth by the then rulers and therefore must be returned for the benefit of people. The fact that it was always known to the Royal family about the underground vaults and its contents, but they chose not to make this public, was suggested as proof of their extraneous motives. In fact, the legal suit itself had its origination in such allegations.
The timing of devaprasnam has again raised certain questions on the intention and role of the Royal family. Royal family is one of the litigants before Supreme Court. The matter is being heard by the Court. Any decision has to be as per the decision of the Court. The value of and contents of the assets in the vaults are coming out into the public domain for the first time in the history, in spite of the Royal family’s efforts against such disclosure.
Under these circumstances, was this devaprasnam only a tactic to blackmail the society and Supreme Court? If one of the litigants considered it necessary to ascertain the will of God, shouldn’t it have applied to the Supreme Court to get it done? What is the sanctity of findings of this ritual when it is conducted not by an independent agency but persons who were entrusted by one of the litigants? Will the astrologers be examined and cross-examined in the Court to make sure that they have indeed expressed the will of God (unlike the sabarimal devaprasnam)? Can such findings be binding on the Supreme Court?
Now what? What will Supreme Court and the Committee appointed by the Court do now? Next hearing is only due in September. What should the Committee do or not do till next hearing? Can the Committee go ahead and undertake the task entrusted to it by the apex Court, irrespective of the threat of God’s wrath? Would Court insist on going ahead with the task of valuing the assets and thereby invite the fury of devotees and perhaps the God himself?
All these questions are difficult to answer. They have multiple dimensions. The aspects of law and aspects of faith are entangled in such a way that any decision by the Court would be subjected to criticism by one or other section of the society. Any decision would have far reaching effects in the jurisprudence related to properties of deities and religious beliefs.
Already some political groups having religious ideology have started raising the issue and I am sure they will like to exploit the ensuing situation to the hilt. It would be keenly watched in Kerala as to what are the steps that will be taken now, by the Supreme Court and the Committee. Whatever the actions may be, we can be certain that unscrupulous groups/persons will make use of them for their own narrow political and religious ends.
I leave it to readers to make their own assumptions, as to why the Royal family and their advisors precipitated such a situation instead of approaching the Supreme Court with their concerns. They may or may not escape the wrath of God; but can they escape from the responsibility for creating a situation that could have serious consequences in the society?
P.S: I am writing this post script on 22 September 2011. Supreme Court has now passed an Order by which opening of Vault B stands postponed. I am tempted to say 'I told you so'. That apart, it will be interesting to see where will it all proceed from here. In my opinion, the Royal family has lost a lot of good will in the whole process. They are now being seen as so much interested to prevent opening of the vaults- for what purpose? Time will answer!