On March 5th 2018 in a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office we drew their attention to our research and urged to take action against the smuggling of India’s heritage by world famous auction houses through the age old established smuggling routes and money-laundering channels. Now in a startling disclosure the High Priest of Tirupati Balaji Temple has alleged that a rare pink diamond from the platinum necklace donated by the Maharaja of Mysore was put for auction by Sotheby’s in Geneva. Add to this the disappearance of the keys to the Ratna Bhandar of Jagannath Temple in Odisha.
Centuries ago funds from these world’s richest temples influenced not just the elections of the Commonwealth but financed operations of the bankrupt British Empire and setup numerous modern business houses. Surprisingly, this tradition may well be still in practice with the temple resources swindled into funding Western European nations bankrupted after 2008 crash and even sponsoring terrorist activities. This is the story of how a death at the heart of the Holy Roman Empire set in motion a series of events and a fierce rivalry that engulfed the entire Indian subcontinent in such a way the reverberations of which are felt even today.
Hunt For The Treasures Of Indian Kingdoms
East India Company had its eyes set on the wealth of Tirumala since a very long time. This wealth came from gifts/donations/offerings by the South Indian Kingdoms of Pallavas, Cholas, Pandyas and most of all during the Vijayanagara Empire. The source of this wealth were the world famous mines of Golconda – present day Andhra Pradesh and Telengana. Out of 38 diamond mines of India, 23 were located in Golconda, making it the ‘Diamond Capital’ of the world. It was considered a point of pride by any ruler to be the owner of one of the Golconda Diamonds. The top four pink diamonds of the world are from Golconda including the Kohinoor.
During the Battle of Talikota in the 1560s when the front line Vijayanagara armies were defeated, the backup army under the Commander in Chief Tirumala Deva Raya was kept across the river Krishna, who decided to save the wealth of the kingdom rather than fight the battle from the left flank. What Tirumala Raya carried was only guessable and exaggerated by many and made legendary by some others. It was estimated that on 7,000 elephants and 30,000 horses the wealth of Vijayanagara Kingdom was carried and with this wealth Tirumala Raya vanished into the dense jungles of Nallamala. For a comprehensive understanding of this story refer to our report, The Hunt For The Treasure Of Vijayanagara Empire.
Since that time of Tirumala Raya’s movement with wealth until now, thousands of treasure hunting parties tried to locate this wealth. According to one estimate, around 1980 there were 125 full time treasure-hunting parties to find this wealth and part time treasure-hunting parties must be ten times that number. Every year come monsoon farmers of these regions hope to find diamonds in their fields to pay their debt after the soil washes away. From adventure enthusiasts to jobless youth to even diamond dealers come here year after year to hunt for these treasure. Many temples around these Nallamala forests were destroyed and uprooted; dated thousands of years old, which were real cultural treasures and close to 125 to 150 people including a French treasure hunting party were killed in the process.
As per an estimate of a mining engineer who studied the Sri Sailam Temple (Jyotirlingakshethra) surroundings there is close to 2,500 tons of Gold buried under the temple premises. After this the state government banned all night travel in and out of Sri Sailam Temple ghat road. This is what the East India Company was after then, and the the modern multinational companies are aiming to dig and take out of India now.
One such company is De Beers; created by the Houses of Rhodes and Oppenheimers through funding by the House of Rothschild, couple of families controlling the East India Companies. East India Companies when they ruled India tried in vain to locate these kimberlite mines and declared that they were all exhausted and thus shifted their focus to South Africa where they took control of the entire continent under the flagship of De Beers. Now with advanced ground-penetrating, light detection and ranging remote sensing techniques they are able to accurately pinpoint the exact locations of these hidden treasures.
As a result a massive eviction of tribal Chenchus (who were ironically given the responsibility to guard this treasure) is taking place in the State of Andhra Pradesh from their ancestral homeland virgin forests of Nallamala range under various government schemes like Project Tiger by threatening them with revolvers under the suspicion of being Naxals for the exclusive benefits of the mining projects awarded to De Beers.
Although Tirumala Raya was successful in protecting the Vijayanagara treasure, little that he knew that after 67 years a decision by his own brother’s grandson would endanger not just the treasure that he fought so hard and gave up his life for but the sovereignty of entire South India.
East India Company’s Takeover Of Tirumala Venkateswara Temple
Tirumala Deva Raya was the founder of the Aravidu dynasty, the fourth and the last to rule the Vijayanagara Empire. By the 17th century the reins of Vijayanagara were in the firm hands of Peda Venkata Raya (or Venkata III), the grandson of Aliya Rama Raya who was the elder brother of Tirumala Deva Raya.
On 20 August 1639, Francis Day of the East India Company along with Damerla Venkatadri Nayak travelled to Chandragiri palace to meet King Peda Venkata Raya to obtain grant for a small strip of land in the Coromandel Coast to build a factory and warehouse for their trading activities. Two days later a strategic piece of land lying between the rivers Cooum and Egmore almost at the point of entry into the sea was granted to East India Company after a deed from the emperor. This day is widely regarded as the founding event of the formation of Madras city and is to this day celebrated as Madras Day.
However, five years later instead of a factory there stood a fortress known as Fort St. George. This was not just a fortress but also doubled as an administrative center and a naval base from where the British exercised influence over South India, most prominently the Kings of Arcot and Srirangapatna, as well as the French forces based at Pondicherry. This strategic importance of the place made it the only British East India Company occupied Indian port city to be bombed by the Germans during World War I, when the German vessel SMS Emden shelled an oil depot during their raids of shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean.
It was from this fortress that the East India Company started its expansion through merging numerous native villages and European settlements around it. However there was another strategic aspect to the geography of this place. It was surrounded by the native temples of Tirumala, Thiruvanmiyur, Thiruvotriyur, Thiruvallikeni (Triplicane), Thirumayilai (Mylapore) which existed for more than thousands of years and from where the bankrupt East India Company sought to finance its operations and that of the British Empire.
The key that would open the door to the hills of Tirumala and other major Temples of South India was the Kingdom of Arkaad or Arcot or Carnatic – the region of peninsular South India lying between the Eastern Ghats and the Western Ghats, in the modern Indian states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, north eastern Kerala and southern Andhra Pradesh.
Not known to most Indians, the French and the British have been at war since a thousand years that would put the so called India Pakistan rivalry to shame. With the entry of East India Companies this war was also imported into India. By 1740 the death of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI and the inheritance of Hapsburg lands locked the European Kingdoms in a war over the question of Maria Theresa’s (Holy Roman Empress) succession to the Habsburg Monarchy. This War of the Austrian Succession immediately led to what you might call in modern terms as a World War across the colonies, including a series of wars over European military and political intervention and domination in the Indian subcontinent known as the Carnatic Wars.
The power struggle that ensued after the death of Aurangzeb gave a much needed opportunity to the British and French to gain a foothold by interfering in Indian politics. Of interest to our story is the Kingdom of Arcot which by the middle of the 18th century was in the hands of Nawab Chanda Sahib, militarily supported by the French Governor General Joseph François Dupleix. To topple the Nawab, British propped up Muhammad Ali Khan Wallajah supported by Robert Clive eventually resulting in Clive’s most humiliating defeat.
With the termination of the War of Austrian Succession in Europe, the First Carnatic War also came to an end and as part of a peace settlement the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) was signed, whereby Madras was given back to the British in exchange for the French fortress of Louisbourg in Canada, North America. After the death of Chanda Sahib, the British installed their puppet Muhammed Ali Khan Wallajah as the Nawab of Arcot which brought the management of the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple directly into the hands of the British East India Company.
Bruce Code & the creation of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams
While most Indians believe that the management of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams started with the TTD Act of 1932, in reality the East India Company was controlling the temple management since more than a century. What the Nawabs of Arcot failed to realise was that accepting British support also meant accepting their hegemony. The policy of British military support to Indian Kingdoms in return for money and land brought with it exorbitant taxes and fraudulent treaties that were designed as debt traps to takeover the Kingdoms. Soon Wallajah along with his successors ran into enormous debts to British and the Temple of Tirumala was taken over by the East India Company to regain its expenditure incurred as a loan to the Nawab of Arcot.
This strategy of Subsidiary Alliance or Paramountcy (for modern equivalence you may consider NATO) effectively took over the foreign policy of native Indian Kingdoms, where princely rulers were not allowed to make any negotiations and treaty with any other ruler or even have an independent armed force depriving them of much needed technology (the policy now followed by the independent Indian government making India the world’s largest arms importer). They were to be protected by the East India Company but had to pay for the subsidiary forces that the company was to maintain for protection. If Indian rulers failed to make the payment (largely owing to their debt traps), part of their territory was taken away as penalty.
Sir William Lee-Warner, in his treatise on, ‘The Native States of India’ phased out the three stages of how the British tookover native Indian Kingdoms.
- The Ring Fence Policy : 1757 to 1813
- The Policy of Subordinate Isolation : 1813 to 1857
- The Policy of Subordinate Union: 1857 onwards
This system of Subsidiary Alliances brought many Indian Kingdoms into the area militarily subordinate to the Governor of Fort St George including the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple. For the effective transfer of wealth the Board of Revenue was established at Fort St.George in 1789 after which East India Company took over the management of Tirumala temple from Nawab of Arcot to generate a fixed revenue per annum to the Company by organising the income of the temple.
The first Collector of Chengalpattu, Lionel Place, noted in his Report of 1799, that soon after he became the Collector, he took over the ‘management of the funds of all the celebrated pagodas (temples)’ into his own hands and allotted the expanses of the temples for their festivals and maintenance. With the Carnatic Treaty of 1801, the Company stripped the Nawabs of all lands, annexed Arcot into their domain and took over direct administration of Tirupati temples for the sheer wealth it possessed.
In 1803, the then Collector of Chittoor, George Stratton sent a report to the Board of Revenues showing the full account of Tirumala Temple, together with schedules, pujas, expenses, and extent of lands etc., known as “Stratton’s Report”. These reports were along the lines of those submitted to the British government by Grome and Garrett on Jagannath Temple. According to the Report, the temple owned 187 villages of which 40 belonged to the various temple functionaries and 124 were under the management of palayakkarars. Palayakkarars or polygars were the administrative and military Generals appointed by the Kings of Vijayanagara Empire, Madurai Nayakas and the Kakatiya dynasty. For centuries Palayakkarars waged wars in alliance with the Mughals and French to dislodge the British from their Kingdoms.
Hence a new set of management and administrative rules for Temples were drafted on the basis of “Stratton’s Report” to take over control of Tirumala from the hands of Palayakkarars known as Bruce’s Code. Formulated by the then Commissioner of the Chittoor district it contained 42 provisions for the guidance of the Tirumala and Tirupati temple administration that effectively opened the doors for its plunder.
By 1840s owing to numerous complaints about misappropriation and mismanagement of Tirumala and Tirupati temple funds the Court of Directors in England came up with a new strategy of plunder by proxy. Under the system, an agent of the Company, the Mahant would administer the Temple on behalf of the East India Company and would remit to the Company a certain specified amount regularly each year, effective from 1842-43, the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign.
The first of such handpicked Agents appointed in 1843 were from a Mutt named Hathiramji Mutt, belonging to the Vaishnava Ghosai tradition. The cunning of the British strategy lay in appointing agents from North India thereby stoking tensions with the priests of South and later throwing the blame squarely on the Mahants wherever misappropriation in temple funds or treasures by the British was caught – the policy now followed by the Indian government.
With the introduction of the Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms in 1919, the British paved the way for legislative control of Temples all across India. These reforms created the “steel frame” of British proxy rule in India (which is being followed to this day, refer to our report Evolution Of Indian Judiciary, Police And Civil Services) – a dominion government functioning as an integral part of the British Empire. Opposed by the freedom fighters back then the reforms though pretended to give political power in the Indian hands, the real power of administration still remained in the hands of the British rulers, as before.
Under the Mahant system for a century Tirumala was plundered officially by the East India Company which had immediate control over all matters of the temple until the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) Act of 1932 settled under the scheme by the Privy Council. To take over full control over religious institutions all over India the idea of establishing a Board of Commissioners on the lines of the Board of Charity Commission in England was conceived. A bill was accordingly drafted and the Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Act (HERB) came into existence in 1925 with a President and four Commissioners having power of supervision and control over the Temples and Mutts of India.
With the enactment of the Madras Act XIX of 1933, the management of the TTD and their properties were taken away from the Mahants and vested in the TTD Board of Trustees which was constituted as a Corporate body having perpetual succession by the provincial British Government of Madras. After independence successive Indian governments carried forward this same British policy further solidifying the State and legislative control over Tirumala Tirupati temples through various Acts – the issue which is a bone of contention to this day. Although religious in nature the issue at hand here is that of pure geo-economics – specifically that of the management of temples.
However the question that we raise here is strategic in nature, deeper than your leaders and agencies would understand or rather want to dwell on.
Plunder of Tirumala’s Wealth
The British Imperial Gazetteer in 1887 records that Tirupati had been the center of many struggles over the last century for possession of the considerable revenues from it. Since the proxy control of Tirumala temples through the Nawab to its complete takeover structurized with the entry of agents in the form of Mahants and solidified with the creation of TTD, the East India Company systematically plundered temple resources, the process which is ongoing to this day. By 1750 revenues of about two lakh rupees from the Tirumala temple were assigned to the East India Company. As per other estimates the Company was getting annually about Rs 2,50,0001 from the Tirumala Temple and the lands attached to it.
Part of this Tirumala temple wealth directly financed elections in Britain. Having captured the Nawab of Arcot into the debt trap the East India Company creditors who by the time had become Members of the Parliament used the Tirumala temple funds to finance their elections in the Britain through what was termed as an “Arcot Interest”. This official account is just a fraction of the actual wealth that was looted, an estimation of which can be gauged from the cases deliberated below.
Just a decade after the East India Company took over direct control of the temples from the Nawab after the Carnatic Treaty, more than one hundred and fifty petitions were filed regarding embezzlement and thefts in the temples. Remember, these cases were heard based on the provisions under the Bruce Code and the regulations they themselves laid out whereby the blame was squarely thrown on the Mahants, Archakas and other temple workers. But where exactly did all these stolen temple wealth go and more importantly how much was it?
In a translation of Sawal-e-Jawab, the unique and unpublished record of 1800 in the form of questions and answers reprinted from the Quarterly Journal of The Mythic Society, V. N. Srinivasa Rao disclosed that there are hidden treasures in the underground chambers at Tirumala.
…and also on account of certain insurrections within the temple, the treasures are hidden on the path of Pradaksina (circumambulation) which is three hundred yards long and forty yards broad. It is closed by doors and riveted with stones and is not open to public like other places of worship in the temple. Hearing this account, a Tahsildar named Srinivasacarya, attempted to investigate the truth of this tradition. He, however, could not proceed with the work owing to the sudden illness of of the men employed for the purpose… Elders say that several other attempts were made to locate the treasure but on every occasion they met with some obstacle or other.
Recently a team of scientists from the US and Australia representing some foreign firms, oversaw excavations around Anantapur, Kadapa, Prakasam of AP, Bellary of Karnataka and Sarvanarasimha Swamy temple in Sirivella mandal headquarter areas as part of their exploration. A foreign company took 50 acres of land at Mahanandi and Mahadevapuram near Nallamala forest for lease and has been carrying out excavations using heavy machinery for the last five years. In the past, another international firm had conducted excavations in Maddikera, Jonnagiri, Peravali, Basinipalle, Madanahantha and Hampa villages but gave up after few trials.
The recent issue raised by the former Mahant (head priest) of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams just echoes what has been consistently brought to light by various individuals and groups since the East India Company takeover of Tirumala temples. What has not been thoroughly studied and investigated is where did the plundered wealth vanish and how it began to be sold off in world famous auction houses. We have addressed this specific issue in our previous report on how the career of diamond dealer Nirav Modi who defrauded Punjab National Bank was created on the plundered diamonds of Golconda mines backed up by the very smuggling syndicated who sold it off in their auction houses. What follows below is a gist and excerpts from the said report Nirav Modi & The Smuggling Of National Treasure, which we urge our keen readers to go through for a fuller understanding.
Role of Auction Houses in Smuggling Indian Culture
It is said that during the Vijayanagara Empire children used to play on streets with ‘rubies the size of tangerines’. Various Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, British, French spies now known as explorers, scholars or travellers have documented the pomp and riches of Vijayanagara which in its heydey was a global centre of finance, commerce, fashion, science, music and painting even surpassing what was once Paris. It were the Golconda mines that were the source of this grandeur on which many Indian Kingdoms flourished.
After Robert Clive took over Plassey, Mir Jafar was installed as a “puppet Nawab”, and the kingdom’s treasury was dutifully emptied by East India Company officers. In a series of campaigns, Clive also amassed large warehouses worth of treasures, from carpets to jewels, now known as the Plassey Plunder. What most Indians are unaware of still is that it was the Plunder of Arcot that served as a blueprint for the model of annexation that was replicated across India.
The East India Company officers who overlooked this loot had working relations with auctioneers and sold/assisted in setting up many of the world famous auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s who are still actively engaged in the smuggling and selling of old and new antiques which we have already detailed comprehensively in our previous report. Few of these items looted by Robert Clive from India were very recently in 2004 auctioned at Christie’s in London. When the grandchildren of Clive were short of money they sold few items from the loot in an auction at Christie’s that fetched them £4 million. Still they have warehouses full of the same Indian treasure now claimed by the Clives; and the way Brexit has plunged Britain into chaos they may well need to sell it soon again for pocket-money.
It is in this light that the recent revelations of the head priest of Tirumala temples, that of a rare pink diamond from the platinum necklace donated by the Maharaja of Mysore being put for auction by Sotheby’s in Geneva should be seen. Let us make it clear to our readers that it is not just the treasures of Tirumala that is being smuggled and sold off abroad but such is the case of temples, museums, treasures all across India.
After Tirumala now more revelations are pouring in that of the disappearance of the keys to the treasury of the richest temple in Odisha after the inspection of its Ratna Bhandar (the treasure trove of Lord Jagannath). Although politicians were quick to rake up the issue amidst massive public outcry we are yet to see any conclusive steps taken by either the self-proclaimed nationalist or secular national political parties since independence. This inaction mind well is not due to lack of evidence or ignorance. Let us illustrate this point with few infamous cases of such idol thieves.
In 1991, a disgruntled former employee of Sotheby’s London came to a journalist and author Peter Watson with three suitcases full of internal documents recording what he alleged to be malpractice at the auction house. The documents prompted Watson to investigate the activities
of Italian antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici and Indian antiquities dealer Vaman Ghiya, who both appeared to have been consigning large quantities of illicit material to Sotheby’s through the offices of front companies based in Switzerland. The documents also suggested that Sotheby’s staff were aware of the situation.
So profitable was the relationship with Ghiya for Sotheby’s that in 1986 the company proposed that their India expert should visit him twice a year to discuss what objects might be suitable for sale. It was this Italian investigation exposing the global racket involving art dealers and auction houses that led the Rajasthan Police in 2003 to recover sixty-eight catalogues of Sotheby’s and Christie’s detailing thousands of antique sculptures for export abroad.
In yet another recent case more than 1,000 years old two Indian statues were seized in 2016 from Christie’s auction house after investigators discovered they had been smuggled out of India, eventually landing in New York. The antiquities were to be part of an auction called “The Lahiri Collection: Indian and Himalayan Art, Ancient and Modern.” Than there is the recent case of yet another 1,000 year old statues of King Raja Raja Chola & Queen Logamadevi smuggled out from Thanjavur Temple mysteriously reaching the private museum run by Gautham Sarabai foundation in Gujarat. Were these also to be auctioned at Christie’s and Sotheby’s like those of Nirav Modi’s diamonds?
For over 20 years, Sotheby’s Department of Indian and Southeast Asian Art in New York City has had regular sales of Indian antiques, which have been well published in print catalogues and on their websites. An analysis of these sales by our team has revealed that these antiques have no published authenticity, or ownership history, meaning they could not be traced to previous collections, exhibitions, sales or publications. This suggest an illegal origin for much of the Indian antiques put on the auction block by Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Such diamonds of doubtful ownership (read smuggled/plundered) from the Golconda mines were sold to Nirav Modi by an anonymous benefactor and auctioned at Christie’s and Sotheby’s that set up his blazing career ending in wiping off crores of public savings.
As is the case Indian authorities are still pleading Interpol to issue a Red Corner notice against Nirav Modi for more than 3 months now. We are yet to see any such conclusive efforts by the Indian government against these auction houses regarding the rampant wholesale smuggling of our entire civilization going on since centuries and now in front of our own eyes – which has now become more than a $5 billion black market. We iterate here again – do the Indian government know the amount of the treasure that was taken out by colonists? If not, did any Indian government – self-proclaimed nationalist or secular – after independence ever commissioned a study to compile a catalogue of the looted items? Why has this not been done yet? Or are they as European historians like to describe, “Indian in just name and body but anglophile in spirit and soul.” Not much has changed since though; while our jewels are being looted blatantly in broad daylight and auctioned off, Indian leaders are glad to become a Jewel in the Commonwealth.
This loot of the fallen Indian Kingdoms laid the foundations of many modern European cities, the records of which were thoroughly erased and replaced with fiction which has been taught to generations of Indians who have now degenerated to a level that they can’t even understand the implications of their national heritage being sold off in broad daylight by the same colonial auction houses that were built on the blood and bones of their ancestors – let alone devising a counter-strategy to dismantle this international smuggling syndicate. Maybe the Indian administration would do well to follow in the footsteps of the hated Russians and Chinese in collaboration with countries like Cambodia, Turkey, Iran, Phillipines in bringing down these colonial auction houses of plunder.
It is a tragedy that even our intelligence agencies supposed to be the nation’s finest are not exempt from the influence of this century old systemic brainwashing. A recent High Court ruling in India confessed they had “not come across even a single case, where the persons involved in smuggling the idols out of the country have been independently prosecuted.” The Comptroller and Audit General in its 2013 report said, “We found that the ASI had never participated or collected information on Indian antiquities put on sale at Sotheby’s and Christie’s as there was no explicit provision in the AAT Act, 1972 for doing so.” The ASI agrees, “It’s only when someone points out that a particular artwork was stolen that we can ask our embassies to stop these auctions.” Can and will the Indian authorities stop these auctions, now that it has been brought to their attention?
On 18th of April this year the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence itself on behalf of the Prime Minister’s Office told us that they “do not have any specific evidence” regarding the smuggling of Indian temple idols, manuscripts, antiques & national heritage and hence they closed the case that we urged them to open. Let this particular piece be a lesson in history and geopolitics for them and all Indians to remember the sacrifice of Tirumalaya Raya and serve as a stark caution against committing the same mistake as his brother’s grandson and other Indian Kings. Maybe the fact that selling one Buddha sculpture stolen from Mathura and illicitly sold for $1 million, terrorists could literally fund a dozen Paris-style attacks would jolt them from their slumber. That’s 1,500 lives that could be lost by smuggling out just one piece of Indian heritage. Because of the way Indian investigating and even intelligence agencies are oriented, these cases are bound to happen again and we will only be taking actions (if at all any) after a major fraud has been committed. As always, GreatGameIndia would be happy to assist our agencies if a concrete action is to be planned in this regard.