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Tuesday, 5 July 2011
AN INDIAN POEM
“The land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendour and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of traditions, whose yesterdays bear date with the moderate antiquities for the rest of nations – the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the world combined.” - Mark Twain
In the news these last few days is a report about the fabulous treasure found in an Indian temple in Kerala State, in southern India. The treasure trove was found in the subterranean vaults of the 16th-century Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple that honours Lord Vishnu in Thiruvananthapuram. The vaults of the temple that had been sealed closed for over 100 years were opened on the instructions of the Supreme Court following a complaint from a local advocate alleging mismanagement by the temple trust. It is believed that most of the treasure was deposited by the royal family of Travancore. The family’s descendants still control the temple.
The treasure includes bags of gold coins, diamonds and other jewels and solid-gold statues of gods and goddesses. It is estimated that the valuables are worth about 22 billion dollars, and this without including the contents of the still sealed Section B, a large space expected to reveal another sizeable collection of treasures. Temples in India often have rich endowments, mainly derived from donations of gold and cash by pilgrims and wealthy patrons. This temple, however, has assets that dwarfs the known fortunes of every other Indian temple. Temple wealth is meant to be used by administrators to operate temples and provide services to the poor, but the administration of the temples’ wealth often become the subject of heated disputes and controversies.
The Supreme Court ordered the opening of the vaults at Padmanabhaswamy to assess the wealth of the temple after a local activist, T P Sundararajan, filed a case accusing administrators of mismanaging and poorly guarding the temple. The apex court has proposed the appointment of a museum curator to catalogue, photograph, and preserve the treasure. Two former judges of the Kerala High Court appointed by the Supreme Court are supervising the inventory of the treasure. The court would also decide which items should be conserved, which displayed in the museum and which others to be kept in safe vaults. Representatives of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and members of the temple trust were present when the treasure was unsealed.
The court warned of serious consequences if any party claims ownership of the treasure. Kerala State would not seek control of the temple or its treasure, a step that some activists have recommended. The Supreme Court will decide what happens to the treasure and the rest of the temple, which sits in the heart of Kerala’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram, once it has established the total value of the holdings (this could take months to finish).
Kerala has been a spice-trading centre for millennia and P.J. Cherian, director of the Kerala Council for Historic Research, said: “Traders, who used to come from other parts of the country and abroad for trading in spices and other commodities, used to make considerably generous offerings to the deity, not only for his blessings but also to please the then rulers.” The treasure trove is hard to imagine, including hundreds of kilos of gold coins issued by the erstwhile kingdom of Travancore, the British East India Company, the erstwhile princely state of Venice, Mysore and even some of Australian origin; a four-foot-tall gold statue studded with emeralds; jewel encrusted crowns and 15-foot-long gold necklaces.
Quite apt then to have an Indian poet provide the poem for today’s Poetry Wednesday offering:
LIKE this alabaster box whose art
Is frail as a cassia-flower, is my heart,
Carven with delicate dreams and wrought
With many a subtle and exquisite thought.
Therein I treasure the spice and scent
Of rich and passionate memories blent
Like odours of cinnamon, sandal and clove,
Of song and sorrow and life and love.
Sarojini Naidu (1879 – 1949)
Sarojini Chattopadhyay was born at Hyderabad on February 13, 1879 the eldest of a large family, all of whom were taught English at an early age. At the age of twelve she passed the Matriculation of the Madras University, and awoke to find herself famous throughout India. Before she was fifteen the great struggle of her life began. Dr. Govindurajulu Naidu, later to become her husband was not a Brahmin, even though of an old and honourable family. The difference of caste roused an equal opposition, not only on the side of her family, but of his; and in 1895 she was sent to England, against her will, with a special scholarship from the Nizam. She remained in England, with an interval of travel in Italy, till 1898, studying first at King’s College, London, then, till her health again broke down, at Girton. She returned to Hyderabad in September 1898, and in the December of that year, to the scandal of all India, broke through the bonds of caste, and married Dr. Naidu.
During her stay in England she met Arthur Symons, a poet and critic. They corresponded after her return to India. He persuaded her to publish some of her poems in 1905 under the title“Golden Threshold”. After that, she published two other collections of poems, “The Bird of Time” and “The Broken Wings”. In 1918 the collection “Feast of Youth” was published. Later, “The Magic Tree”, “The Wizard Mask” and “A Treasury of Poems” were published. Mahashree Arvind, Rabindranath Tagore and Jawaharlal Nehru were among the thousands of admirers of her work. Her poems are in English, but their soul is Indian.
In 1916, she met Mahatma Gandhi, and she totally directed her energy to the fight for freedom. She would roam around the country like a general of the army and pour enthusiasm among the hearts of Indians. The independence of India became the heart and soul of her work. She was responsible for awakening the women of India. She brought them out of the kitchen. She travelled from state to state, city after city and demanded rights for women. She battled long and hard for the self-esteem of the women of India.
In 1925, she chaired the summit of Congress in Kanpur. In 1928, she went to the USA with the message of the non-violence movement of Gandhiji. When in 1930, Gandhiji was arrested for a protest, she took the helm of his movement. In 1931, she participated in the Round Table Summit, along with Gandhiji and Pundit Malaviyaji. In 1942, she was arrested during the “Quit India” protest and stayed in jail for 21 months with Gandhiji. After independence she became the Governor of Uttar Pradesh. She was the first woman governor. She passed away on March 2, 1949.
I have been blogging daily on this platform for several years now. It is surprising that I have persisted as the world is changing and "microblogging" is now the norm. I blog to amuse myself, make comment on current affairs, externalise some of my creativity, keep notes on things that interest me, learn something new and to surprise myself with things that I discover about this wonderful, and sometimes crazy, world we live in.
I sometimes get the impression that I am on a soapbox delivering a monologue, so your comments are welcome.