Even the dead have dignity, the Supreme Court of India observed recently, adding that the living too had a right to privacy. Of course, these very important observations were made by the Hon’ble Court not in a supernatural case, but on the issue of disclosure of identity of rape victims. However, there is no denying that both dignity and privacy are of supreme importance universally, no matter what the context is. After death especially, in case after case since times immemorial it has been seen across the world that when the dignity and privacy of the dead are violated, dire consequences follow for the living. The violation of dignity and privacy of the dead has taken many forms, but always, the underlying trigger has been a negation, disrespect, defilement, desecration, call it what you will, of the sentiments or wishes of the dead.
Take the case of a book said to be bound with the skin of an alleged witch who had been executed. The book is a black magic treatise known as the Ahriman spell book. Ahriman, a powerful but infamous sorcerer from a forgotten era, possessed, it is said, the key to Arezura, the abode of demons. Among other details, it is known that it was gifted to Charlemagne, the Roman Emperor often called the “Father of Europe”, in 800 A.D. Over the centuries whoever came into possession of this book of ancient black magic spells met with misfortune. Some say the ill luck was activated by the vengeful witch with whose skin the book was bound, some say it was a restless Ahriman still trying out his nefarious spells. A TV documentary claims that billionaire John J. Astor carried the book with him onto the Titanic on its last ill fated journey and perhaps brought about its doom.
However, according to Didier Bert, “Some say that the sinking of the Titanic was due to a cursed mummy, brought back from Egypt by the archaeologist Douglas Murray. This mummy is reputed to cast a spell on all those who disturb its rest. Douglas Murray boarded the Titanic with his mummy, who now rests in peace at the bottom of the sea.”
Along with many other stories, Bert also mentions the Basano vase which according to legend “was given to a young girl before her wedding, but she was murdered before the ceremony could take place, while holding the vase in her hands. According to legend, this object has been passed down from generation to generation, always accompanied by a death. In 1988, a pharmacist bought the vase at auction. He died three days later.”
The ill luck and supernatural connections of the Kohinoor Diamond, the Hope Diamond and Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun’s treasure are well known. In the latter case, in November 1922, British explorers Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovered Tutankhamun’s treasure. Five months later, Lord Carnarvon died. Other scholars who were part of the expedition died in the years that followed, reinforcing the legend that whoever disturbed the tomb and the treasure would die. Rationalists however, contend that most of the expedition members were already quite old.
In India, the curse of the Cobra is said to hang over Kerala’s Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple treasure in Thiruvananthapuram. According to Imaginearea’s Blog, a WordPress.com site, “With the historical records of the world’s richest temple lost in the sands of time and nothing to stand by except the legend written on old palm leaf records and corroborated in the ‘Ananthasayana Mahatmya granthas’ , it is said that the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple was set up by a Tulu Brahmin hermit named Divakaramuni on the 950th day of Kali Yuga.”
In 2009, a former IPS Officer and Supreme Court lawyer,Trivandrum Padmanabha Iyengar Sundara Rajan, obtained a “Quo Warranto” from the Supreme Court of India. The apex court appointed a seven member committee and ordered an inventory to be taken. TPS Rajan was one of the members of the committee. The committee discovered gold, coins and other assets, some 20 feet under the ground, estimated at a value of about 1.2 lakh crore rupees (US$19 billion), making it the richest temple in the world.
But in July 2011, the seven member expert team postponed the opening of Sri Mahabharatakonathu Kallara or Chamber ‘B’. Many leading astrologers and the erstwhile royal family appealed to the apex court against opening it. Temple officials cited “ancient legends of a bad omen befalling the state as well as those involved in the exercise.” The chamber is guarded, according to reports, with the image of a cobra, though that’s not so unusual, as cobra imagery is commonly depicted in Hindu iconography. The Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, in any case, is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, often portrayed as reclining on the coils of Sheshnag, the king of snakes . About a century ago, it is said, temple officials tried to break open the chamber to try and find resources to help tide over a severe famine in the area. But they heard, it is related, what sounded like rushing water and stopped.
The old palm leafs in the temple contain the details of the of the temple’s history and “ancient seers wrote in them that the Chamber B was sealed by the ‘Siddha Purushas’ by reciting the Naga Paasam mantras during the reign of King Marthandavarma and only a powerful Sadhu who can recite the ‘Garuda Mantra’ can open the Chamber and no human effort would be needed to open it’.”
However, Imaginearea’s Blog revealed that an uncorroborated leaked report by an Austrian Journalist Reinhardt Smueller, mentions that the committee did indeed open Vault B, and “inside the vault was found a dark grey, very smooth elongated capsule, with no discerning opening. Propped up against the capsule were seven human mummified remains. The human remains showed no signs of violent death. The object itself has an almost inaudible hum and when the authorities tried to drill a small hole into the capsule, it proved to be impenetrable… Mueller further pointed out that an ancient Hindu art dating back to the 4th century depicts a similar object in the skies above the temples.”
Mysterious question marks over the temple’s treasure deepened with the death of TPS Rajan who had originally petitioned the Supreme Court to open the vaults. Apart from such high profile cases, there are innumerable instances from obscure regions in India and elsewhere. Each one of them highlight that the dignity and privacy of the dead must be preserved otherwise there is usually a high price to be paid.