The temple’s wealth belongs to the lord

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Historian MG Sasibhooshan argues that the huge treasure discovered in Sree Padmanabhaswamy complex is already home and should not be moved

Photo: Creative Common/ Thomas Guignard

THE RECENT ‘discovery’ of gold, silver, gems and precious coins from the vaults of the centuries-old Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram has excited and incited many. Everyone is voicing their opinion on what should be done next. The Kerala government has issued a strong statement that the assets belong to the temple and there’s no question of moving them outside its precincts. However, the government also deems it the state’s responsibility to protect the temple’s wealth and has stepped up security.

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The Fabled Wealth
Speculators say the treasure was kept in six vaults inside the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple. Five were opened and the assets listed by the seven-member committee headed by retired justice MN Krishnan. The listing of assets started on 27 June. It’s rumoured that assets worth Rs 1 lakh crore have been found in 65 sacks and three iron boxes. Some of them are the following:

1,500 tonnes of golden grains
1 lakh gold and silver coins

536 kg of gold coins
16 kg of East India Company gold coins

3 kg gold coins of King Napoleon
16 kg gold coins of Travancore kings

Crown used during the reign of King Kulashekhara Perumal
Two waist-covering ornaments weighing two kg each

Diamond-studded chains offered to warriors
Several gold statues of elephants

300 kg golden bars
450 golden pots

7 golden bottles 
1 golden sandalwood stand

2 golden robes
Conches covered with gold

55 kg golden face cover worth Rs 13 crore
Vishnu statue studded with 1,000 diamonds

Lord Krishna statue weighing 5 kg
130 silver pots

20 silver lamps 
4 silver bowls

30 silver bars 
300 kg bracelets

7 bracelets with diamonds
2 crowns with emeralds

2 necklaces with rubies 
800 golden chains studded with rubies and diamonds

2,000 gems
2,000 rubies

Several sapphires
Other miscellaneous treasures found on 4 July worth Rs 40,000 crore

Golden body armour 
Golden bow

Golden sticks
Golden shawl

Golden rings
Golden rope

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The media’s berserk projection of the Supreme Court committee’s procedures has raised sharp criticisms — of both the media as well as the committee. Who leaked all the exaggerated stories? Did the media really have to sensationalise the findings? Did the committee have the right to speak to the media before submitting its report to the Supreme Court?
To the city’s old-timers and temple’s devotees, the ‘revelations’ were hardly mind-boggling or awe-inspiring. They already knew that these vaults (or Thiru-Aras) existed and that they’d accrued a priceless wealth of gold, silver and precious stones offered to the Lord since at least the 8th century. These vaults have now been identified as six and marked as A, B, C, D, E and F. It’s said that vaults A and B hadn’t been opened for more than a century and a half, while the others — which contained the deity’s gold ornaments, gem-studded decorations and various utensils like lamps — were used for puja on special occasions.

Here’s a fact of history: Almost 95 percent of this newly discovered wealth was offered by the Travancore kings and their family members to their tutelary deity Sree Padmanabhaswamy, which is substantiated by the Mathilakam records (cadjan leaf manuscripts containing important temple records preserved in the Kerala State Archives Department). Massive temple renovations were carried out during the reign of Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma (1729-58), including the construction of the imposing eastern gateway, the sheveli pura or granite canopied corridors circumambulating the shrine.

Marthanda Varma, known as the founder of modern Travancore, was an intense devotee who surrendered his sovereignty and kingdom to the god Sree Padmanabhaswamy after conquering and annexing many neighbouring kingdoms. His symbolic submission has gone down in history as Trippadidanam — an act of absolute surrender — which made Sree Padmanabhaswamy Travancore’s sovereign head. Henceforth the rulers were only called Padmanabha dasas (vassals of the Lord) who ruled the kingdom on his behalf. Marthanda Varma continued to gift huge amounts of gold and precious gems to the temple, which was emulated by his successors, including the great musician king Swati Thirunal Rama Varma and the last king Sri Chithira Thirunal Bala Rama Varma.

Counter Voice

‘The treasures are kerala’s hertage, they should be preserved in a museum with high-tech security’

KN Panikkar, Historian

The priceless wealth in the vaults includes a hoard of coins rumoured to have great historical significance, and is supposed to include Greek and Roman coins, Vijayanagara and Nayak coins, Venetian ducats, Dutch, French and East India Company coins as well as, of course, coins of various Travancore kings.

The state’s uninterrupted history and its relative impregnability from marauding armies have helped safeguard the temple’s wealth. In the old days, the city held this wealth in high esteem. Today, though, everyone is exerted about it without a sense of its history. Some want it distributed among the “starving millions of India”, some want to exhibit it in museums, some even want the RBI to attach it. Unfortunately, all these opinions have been floated without considering the devotion with which the temple’s custodians — the Travancore Royal Family — have protected and safeguarded this wealth. These rulers oversaw a progressive princely state of colonial India that took many revolutionary decisions, such as being the first state to abolish capital punishment and introducing Temple Entry Proclamation in 1936 (granting permission to Hindu ‘untouchables’ to enter and worship in all the temples).

Counter Voice

‘The government is appeasing royal family loyalists. Instead it should use the assets for the state’s welfare’
U Kalanathan,

President, Atheist Society of Kerala

The suddenly intense media glare has been intolerable and has resulted in spy cams being inveigled into the temple enclosures. Why must we disturb Sree Padmanabhaswamy’s ‘yogic slumber’ for this wealth?


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