Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple Treasure
Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple which located in the city of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala State, south India is making headlines for the past one week on account of the vast treasure found in its secret vaults. It is natural for everyone to get curious about the temple and its invaluable treasure which was lying unknown to the world all these days.
In earlier years Padmanabhaswamy Temple and its properties were controlled by eight powerful Nair feudal lords known as Ettuveetil Pillamar (Lords of the Eight Houses) under the guidance of the Council of Eight and a Half. Later, King Marthanda Varma, the founder of Travancore, successfully suppressed the Ettuveetil Pillais and his cousins following the discovery of conspiracies the Lords were involved in against the Royal House of Travancore. The last major renovation of the Padmanabhaswamy temple was also done by Marthanda Varma. He virtually “dedicated” the kingdom of Travancore to Padmanabha, the deity at the temple, and pledged that he and his descendants would “serve” the kingdom as Padmanabha Dasa, meaning “Servant of the Padmanabha”.
The insignia of the Padmanabha, Valampiri Shankhu or Dextral Conch-shell, served as the state emblem of Travancore and it can still be seen on the emblem of Kerala state. Padmanabha is still regarded as regional deity of erstwhile Travancore.
The two annual festivals of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple culminate in a grand procession, in which the three deities (Padmanabha, Narasimha and Krishna) are carried on flower-deck and aesthetically decorated Garuda Vahanas to Shankumugham Beach, for “arattu” (sacramental ablution). The arattu days are declared as local public holidays in Thiruvanathapuram. The Idol is made of Kadusarkkara Yogam, an ayurvedic mixture, with Vishnu sleeping on the serpent Ananta with his head pointing towards south, facing east.
The idol is made up of 12000 salagramams that compose the reclining figure. They are considered extraordinary because they are from Nepal, from the banks of the Gandhaki river, and they were allegedly brought to the temple by elephant in an elaborate ceremony. On top of them, “katusarkara yogam”, navaratnams, a special ayurvedic mix, was used to create plaster. Followers believe that the Lord has personally come in disguise and had saved the Travancore Kingdom from enemy attack on multiple occasions.
In 2011, the Supreme Court of India directed the authorities from the fire services and archeology department to open the secret (sanctum sanctorum) chambers of the temple for inspection of the items kept inside. The inspections at the temple began after the Supreme Court set aside a Kerala High Court order that the state government take over the temple, but asked for the inventory of its assets. The high court order was given after a local lawyer, Sundar Rajan, petitioned it because, he alleged, the trust running the temple did not have the capacity to ensure the security of its assets. On 2 July 2011, approximately Rupees 500 billion (US$11.15 billion) worth of gold, jewels, and other treasures were unearthed in the vaults of the temple. Several 18th century Napoleonic era coins were found, as well as a three-and-a-half feet tall gold idol of Mahavishnu studded with rubies and emeralds, and ceremonial attire for adorning the deity in the form of 16-part gold anki weighing almost 30 kilograms (66 lb) together with gold coconut shells, one studded with rubies and emeralds. The Kerala High Court recently ordered the temple be managed by the State to ensure the security of the temple and its treasures. This ruling was set aside by the Supreme Court. The Temple remains under the control of a private trust run by the Royal family.
This revelation has solidified the status of the Padmanabhaswamy temple as one of the wealthiest temples in India and with the final estimate of the wealth, it might overtake the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple—hitherto thought to be the wealthiest temple—having some Rupees 320 billion (US$7.14 billion) in gold, coins and other treasures. It is estimated that the value of the monumental items is close to Rupees 1 trillion (US$22.3 billion), making it the richest temple in the world. If the antique value is taken into account, this treasure will be worth 10 times the current market price.
The treasure is thought to have been in the temple for more than one hundred years, having been put there by traders, pilgrims and royals such as the maharajahs of Travancore. While some Historians have suggested that a major chunk of the stored riches reached the kings in the form of tax, gift and bribes, as well as looted wealth of conquered states and temples stocked in the temple for safekeeping, there is also clear evidence that the Royal family which has looked after the temple for centuries have lead a very austere and simple life, thus belying claims of hoarding for personal use. A ferry transported traders, pilgrims and chroniclers from the Tenavaram temple, the famously wealthy Vishnu temple town and Tamil emporium to the Chera and Chola kingdoms of Tamilakkam via Puttalam on the western shore of Ceylon (then an extension of Malabar Kerala) and the Gulf of Mannar during the medieval period. This temple was destroyed in 1587 CE, a few years after the Thiruvananthapuram Padmanabhaswamy temple gopuram was constructed. Moroccan traveller Ibn Batuta visited Tenavaram in the 14th century and described the Vishnu idol here as being made of gold and the size of a man with two large rubies as eyes “that lit up like lanterns during the night.” All people living within the vicinity of the temple and who visited it were fed with monetary endowments that were made to the idol.
The findings represent the highest valued assets at present, saved in secret chambers by the royal families. Bags of diamonds, an 18-foot (5.5 meter) gold necklace and 19 kilograms (42 pounds) of precious coins are among the Rupees 900 billion ($20 billion) of items found so far, according to the website of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Kerala. Other items in the opened vaults include gold ropes and antique jewelry studded with diamonds and emeralds.
The main treasure found on the 6th day was a one foot height golden idol of Lord Mahavishnu and a 30 kg golden ‘anki’. This golden idol of Lord Vishnu is believed to be the replica of the ‘utsava vigraham’ used in the temple. The golden idol of Padmanabhaswamy studded with more than 1000 precious stones is valued to around Rupees 500 Crore. Another golden idol of Lord Sree Krishna was also found which around 5 kg weighs. Several golden coins were also unearthed yesterday which are believed to be issued during the reign of Krishnadeva Raya in the 16th century AD. Numerous golden ornaments which were used to adorn the main deity were also found in the Vault marked A. Ornaments studded with emeralds were also found on Saturday. Numerous golden human figurine weighing 1 kg, golden bangles, golden rope, are other interesting treasure found in the Vishnu Temple. Another interesting finding was two coconut shells made of pure gold. One of this golden coconut shells was students with rare antique stones including emeralds and rubies.
The temple has 6 vaults (Kallaras), labeled as A to F for book keeping purpose by the Court, that are hidden under the sanctum sanctorum. While vaults A and B have been unopened over the past 130 years, vaults C to F have been opened from time to time. The two priests of the temple, the ‘Periya Nambi’ and the ‘Thekkedom Nambi’, are the custodians of the four vaults, C to F, which are opened periodically. The Supreme Court had directed that “the existing practices, procedures and rituals” of the temple be followed while opening vaults C to F and using the articles inside. Vaults A and B shall be opened only for the purpose of making an inventory of the articles and then closed.
On July 4, 2011 the seven-member expert team which is taking stock of the assets at temple decided to postpone opening of the secret chamber marked ‘B’ till they obtained more expert opinion as preliminary examination of its gates had found the vault to be secured with iron shutters making experts wonder what lay inside. The royal family said that many legends were attached to the temple and that chamber B has a model of a snake on the main door and opening it could be a bad omen. Seven-member team will consult with some more experts on July 8, 2011 and then they may take the final decision on opening of chamber ‘B’.