Friday, July 15, 2011


Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram is literally in the eye of a storm with the discovery of an estimated Rs 1 lakh crores (Rs 1 trillion) in the temple's treasure trove on June 30th. The discovery consists of gold, silver, gems and precious coins from the vaults of the 9th century temple. As per temple records, the temple was built around the 10th century by the Ay dynasty who ruled prior to the Travancore royal family. There is a raging nationwide debate on what should be done with the treasure which has got accumulated over thousands of years. The Kerala Government insists that the assets belong to the temple and that it should not be relocated outside the temple premises. It has also beefed up security to protect the temple's wealth. The treasures have immense heritage value and under constitutional obligation these objects have to be preserved.

The costliest of the treasure found is perhaps a multi-gem studded golden icon of the deity Lord Vishnu. The kallaras are the six chambers around the sanctum sanctorum. Out of these four are routinely opened and shut while two have not been opened for centuries. Most of the treasure found was offered by the Travancore kings and their family members to their family deity Sree Padmanabhaswamy which is substantiated by the temple records which is preserved in the Kerala Archives Department. Marthanda Verma (1729-58) is known as the founder of modern Travancore. He was a dedicated devotee of the Lord unto whom he surrendered his kingdom and sovereignty making the Lord the sovereign Head of Travancore. Thereafter the rulers were called Padmanabha Dasas who ruled the kingdom on His behalf. Marthanda Verma, Swati Thirunal Rama Varma and the last king Sri Chitira Thirunal Bala Rama Varma continued to gift the Lord with precious gems and gold . Situated in the southwestern tip of the country, the temple was safeguarded from marauding invaders.

Why this sudden flurry now? After all, the residents of this holy city and particularly the Lord's ardent devotees have been aware of the wealth lying in the temple's vaults (Thiru-Aras) for hundreds of years. It is one T P Sundararajan,70, a retired IPS officer living just 100 feet away from the temple,and an advocate who literally set the ball rolling. He filed a petition in the High Court alleging mismanagement of the temple's funds by the Trustees and asked for an inventorisation of the wealth lying in the vaults. The High Court issued an order to the State asking it to take over the temple, its assets and management. Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma, the 89 year-old king who is fighting a battle in court and is striving to hold on to the last vestige of his empire, the Padmanabhaswamy temple,moved the Supreme Court which stayed the High Court order and asked for a detailed inventory to be listed of all the valuables in the six vaults of the temple. On June 27 when the vaults were opened for stocktaking, the treasures saw the light of the day. Sundararajan was one of the seven member panel formed by the Supreme Court that inspected the six vaults.Sundararajan, a bachelor, who takes his father to the temple every day and prays in the temple thrice a day, has indicated that there is a subterranean vault full of copper pots containing gold coins.His motive for taking the matter to the court was to prevent the royal family from siphoning off the huge treasure.The head of the erstwhile royal family said that he nor any of his family members were not making any claim to the temple wealth.

One vault, the kallara B, has not yet been opened.There is a sign of 'serpent' visible at the entrance and it is felt that it is inauspicious to open it as it may invite the wrath of the Lord. A 'deva prashnam' which is an age-old religious custom and practice may have to be conducted so as not to incur the displeasure of the Lord.

The questions that crop up are:- a) who owns the treasure, b) who will manage it, c) what will the apex court say, d) why is the government unsure of taking over the temple and e) how are the enormous treasures going to be secured and preserved for posterity? And simultaneously there are many who have offered various suggestions for utilising the staggering wealth for the benefit of the temple, the poor and the State.

The eighteen feet long idol of Lord Padmanabha, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu cannot be viewed in one glance. He is shown as reclining on the five-hooded serpent Adisesha, whose body is coiled thrice. The idol is made of a special material and there are about 12,000 saligramas collected from the bed of River Gandaki in Nepal which have been placed inside the idol. Some say that the the idol is made of gold and that it has been covered with soot. Nammaazhvar, a Vaishanavite mystic saint has sung eleven paasurams (verses) on the Lord which is part of the Thiruvaaimozhi section of the Naalayira Divya Prabandham.The temple architecture is a fusion of the Kerala style with the Dravidian style. Before the reorganisation of States after India attained independence, the Travancore kingdom consisted of the modern day southern Kerala and Kanyakumari district and the southernmost parts of Tamil Nadu.

continued in part II


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