Sacred Wealth: Rediscovering India's Temple Economies

(MENAFN- IANS) New Delhi: The inception of the RAM Mandir heralds the dawn of a cultural renaissance, igniting the revival of ancient heritage and the reclamation of indigenous life principles.

This monumental endeavour represents a pivotal moment in decolonising our societal paradigms. The timeless wisdom embedded in our cultural ethos advocates for well-being and prosperity through virtuous conduct across all facets of existence.

Now is the opportune moment to embrace these eternal values, anchoring our collective journey toward holistic enrichment.

Mandirs are revered as sacred spaces for spiritual worship, symbolising a profound connection to the divine within Hinduism. Integral to Hindu religious practices, they serve as centres for community gathering, spiritual reflection, and the propagation of cultural and philosophical teachings, even playing a pivotal role as generators of economic activity and contributing to the local economy while upholding spiritual values.

In his latest magnum opus, 'Temple Economics Volume 1', author Sandeep Singh provides a meticulous and eloquent exposition of the profound economic roles that temples have historically played in Hindu civilisation.

Singh's scholarly treatise reveals that mandirs have been foundational not merely as spiritual sanctuaries, but also as dynamic epicentres of economic, social, and cultural vitality. His work stands as a clarion call to recognise and reinvigorate these traditional systems in our contemporary milieu.

Mandirs have historically served as centres of economic activity, contributing to societal prosperity. The Indian system of economy, as established and nurtured by temples since time immemorial, differs from modern or Western economics concepts in its holistic approach.

Mandir-based Arthavywastha integrates ethical, moral, philosophical, and spiritual values, focusing on the well-being of individuals and society as a whole, rather than solely on profitability. This system sustains cities for thousands of years, fostering a sense of community and contributing to the overall richness and well-being ('vaibhav') of society beyond mere wealth.

Moreover, mandirs were not just revenue generators but were also centres for creating and disseminating thoughts through ancient 'sanskars', where the focus was on the overall growth of human life, encompassing financial, physical, societal, and intellectual dimensions.

To understand the difference between Arthashastra and economics, there is a need to come out of the Western concept of economy. Underscoring the disparity between economics and 'Arthavywastha', while economics concentrates solely on analysing the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, 'Arthavywastha' embraces the comprehensive well-being of individuals, incorporating ethical, moral, philosophical, and spiritual values.

Quoting from the book 'Temple Economics Vol-1' in which author Sandeep Singh draws a distinction between Arthashastra and economics, Arthashastra made India prosperous long before modern economics existed, offering a comprehensive and all-encompassing approach.

Author Singh mentions, 'It was perfected by Acharya Chanakya and implemented in the Mauryan empire. It is time-tested. Acharya Chanakya pointed out: 'Arth has a much wider significance than merely wealth. The material well-being of an individual is a part of it'.”

In exploring the dichotomy between industrial economics and temple-based Arthashastra, the author examines the case of Detroit, once known as the heart of the American automotive industry.

Despite its pioneering role in mass production, Detroit faced a decline, losing a quarter of its population from 2000 to 2010 due to shifts in manufacturing to cheaper locations. Similarly, cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Toledo, once thriving centres of the new economy, are now collectively known as the Rust Belt.

In contrast, ancient cities like Varanasi, Ujjain, Madurai, and Pushkar, centred around temples, have sustained for millennia. Arthavyavastha, focused on the well-being of devotees, vendors, and society, contrasts with industrial economics' emphasis on profitability.

Temple-based economies, as old as the temples themselves, fostered prosperity beyond mere wealth, embodying richness in power, intelligence, ethics, and morality. It is not surprising that as per Angus Maddison's study of the world economy, in the year one CE, Bharat's share of the world GDP was 32.9 per cent.

Business economics has a finite time-period while mandir-based Arthavyavastha is eternal. Pure industrial economics is about the profitability of an individual or corporate, it is not about the well-being of a citizen or society, while in the case of mandir-based Arthavyavastha, it is about the well-being of its devotees, vendors, or patrons, i.e., everyone in the value chain.

Sandeep Singh's 'Temple Economics' delves into a wealth of epigraphical evidence revealing that mandir charities extended beyond ceremonial purposes within temple precincts.

The inscriptions mentioned illuminate a broader scope, encompassing scientific and religious educational initiatives. Notably, temples served as centres for hymn recitations and the dissemination of esteemed literary works.

A remarkable example from the Venkatesha Perumal Temple illustrates this multifaceted role, where alongside a hospital, a hostel, and a college were maintained. Moreover, records indicate patronage of arts, with donations supporting theatrical performances and the creation of classical works, underscoring temples' integral role as cultural and educational hubs.

The author eloquently says,“One must remember that mandirs are, first and foremost, dharmic places, sacred spaces, and then they are also the centre of aarthic activity. Dharma and sacredness take precedence over aarthic activity. In Hindutva, aarthic activities are rooted in dharmic activity, hence mandirs are the centre of aarthic activity.

"According to S.P. Sabharatnam, Sivacharyar outlines the activities designated for temples in the Śaivāgamas, sacred texts embodying wisdom from Lord Shiva, transmitted through Parvati and accepted by Vishnu. These activities, detailed in texts like Suprabhedagama, Vijayagama, Analagama, and Prodgitagama, offer guidance for temple practices and rituals."

Throughout the book, the author uses vivid anecdotes to illustrate the profound significance of temples, outlining a comprehensive role for mandirs. This includes advocating for the systematic study of the Vedas and Agamas, establishing schools, and promoting the learning of local languages and Sanskrit as it was in the period before invasions happened.

There was also an emphasis on education in dance, music, astronomy, and astrology, along with religious discourse and yogic disciplines in the mandir complexes. Also, training individuals in rituals, employing speakers on ritual significance, and organising village festivals.

Mandirs were even tasked with maintaining hospitals, libraries, alms-houses, and shelters, supporting the disabled and disowned, and feeding the poor. Additional responsibilities included supporting single mothers and widows, creating conflict resolution boards, taking precautionary steps during natural calamities, and maintaining stables and gardens.

To put the point across, the book highlights how the Agamas themselves prescribe the role of mandirs in carrying out social and civic duties in addition to dharmic duties. These combined activities foster comprehensive aarthic (economic) activity.

Amid the echoes of historic triumph and the resounding hymns of devotion, a sacred transformation unfolds in the heart of Ayodhya. As the majestic Ram Mandir takes shape upon the revered grounds of Ram Janmabhoomi, a radiant dawn emerges, illuminating the path towards a future teeming with promise and possibility.

In this hallowed moment, the anticipation of a revitalised temple-based economy shimmers with the essence of ancient wisdom and modern aspirations. Rooted in the profound teachings of Arthashastra, this envisioned metamorphosis transcends mere bricks and mortar, heralding a renaissance that not only uplifts Ayodhya, but also bestows its blessings upon the farthest reaches of the land.

As these sacred sanctuaries evolve into vibrant centres of both commerce and spirituality, they stand as beacons of hope, weaving together the threads of past glory with future prosperity.

Thus, in the harmonious fusion of aarthic pursuits and dharmic principles, a new era dawns -- one adorned with resilience, reverence, and boundless potential.

(The writer is a PhD in sociology and author of the book 'Blood In The Sea: The Dark History of Hindu Oppression in Goa')



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