Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple
The treasure estimated to be worth Rs 200,000 crore found in secret chambers at the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple at Thiruvananthapuram belongs to Lord Padmanabha and nobody including the government has any right to them, according to senior bureaucrats, eminent historians and spiritual leaders.
“All precious stones, ornaments and other materials found in the chambers opened as per the directive of the Supreme Court are well documented. Each and every material has been accounted for and there is no confusion about the ownership. They all belong to Lord Padmanabha, the deity of the Travancore Royal Family,” Prof MGS Narayanan, eminent historian and former chairman of the Indian Council for Historical Research told DNA.
R Ramachandran Nair, former chief secretary, Kerala, who played a major role in integrating the thousands of hectares of land owned by the Travancore Royal family into the revenue department of the state said that treasures are the exclusive property of the temple and no one has any right over them. He said offerings have been made to the temple by kings and traders from Portugal, the Netherlands, Great Britain and the Far East.
According to C P Nair, another former chief secretary, the market value of the treasures could cross Rs 5 lakh crore mark making Padmanabha Swamy temple the richest temple in the world. “I suggest the security of the temple better be handed over to army commandos,” he said.
Members of the Travancore Royal Family, who have an umbilical cord relationship with the temple, have kept a low profile on the findings. More than the value of the treasures unearthed, what is unique is the strange ties the royal family has with Lord Padmanabha.
“The Travancore Maharaja begins his day by worshipping at the temple. If he cannot make it to the temple, he has to pay a fine,” Princess Gouri Lakshmi Bayi, the neice of Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma, the present title holder of the erstwhile Travancore state, told DNA.
The princess said it was not proper to describe the findings in the chambers as treasure. “It is offerings made by the Lord’s devotees and hence it is His wealth. They are not treasures,” she said.
The princess starts her public speeches by reciting hymns in praise of Lord Padmanabha composed by her great uncle, former Maharaja Swathi Thirunal.
Though the Maharaja and the princess refused to comment about the opening of the chambers, a member of the royal family said they were all sad and disappointed over the action by some devotees who dragged the issue to court.
“Some of the devotees have taken on rent the temple premises and they pay only meager amount like Rs 25 per month for a shop and Rs 300 for a marriage hall which charges Rs 35,000 per marriage . When we asked them to revise the rent according o prevailing market rates they ganged up against the palace and went to court. The Travancore Royal Family has not taken a single paisa from the temple even when the State was under severe financial crisis,” said a princess who too did not want her name to be quoted.
All Maharajas who ruled Travancore were known as Padmanabha Daasa (vassals of Lord Padmanabha). “This is a custom which dates back to 1750. On January 17, 1750, Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma, the then Maharaja, along with members of the royal family and his ministers proceeded to the Temple and he laid the state sword before the deity handing over the territory of Travancore to Sree Padmanabha. Ever since the people of Travancore have regarded the State as Sree Padmanabha’s possession and the king as his servant,” said Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma.
Though the exact date on which the temple was consecrated is not known, there are official records dating back to 910 AD.
“There are records indicating offerings made by Raja Raja Cholan and Krishna Devaraya of the Vijayanagaram Empire,” said Ramachandran Nair.
Prof Narayanan said the Mathilakam Documents preserved in the temple premises show that the entire wealth kept in the chambers were offerings received from various dignitaries and royal families from all over the globe.
“Munroe, a governor of the British province made an offering in the form of a golden umbrella,” said Princess Gouri Lakshmi Bayi.
CP Nair who has studied all the legal records of Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple pointed out that the covenantworked out by Sir C P Ramaswamy Aiyer, the then Constitutional Advisor to the Maharaja has made it clear that the Temple belongs to the TravancoreRoyal Family.
“The Maharaja is the Trustee of the temple and hence the official custodian of the wealth. The royal family has not touched a single paise from these offerings. Neither the government nor the politicians can interfere with these offerings in any manner,” said Nair.
He also said that the 1971 abolition of privy purse enjoyed by former rulers has nothing to do with the Temple.
Both CP Nair and Ramachabndran Nair were of the view that the collection of offerings found in the chambers were the first of its kind in the world. “We can have some kind of exclusive Heritage Museumwhere these offerings could be displayed for the public to see. It can never be used for any other commercial or social projects,” they said.
What is unique about the Padmanabha Swamy Temple which has a distinct Dravidian architecture is the nearby Arya Samaj office where non-Hindus can get converted to Hinduism by paying a nominal amount of Rs 50 so that they too could worship in the temple. A modern strategy to circumvent the age-old rule that only Hindus could worship inside this temple!
Aarattu, the annual festival of Padmanabha Swamy Temple, itself is a pointer to the official status enjoyed by the temple and the Royal family. The head of the Travancore Royal family leads the ceremonial procession and he is accompanied by members of the police. It is Thiruvananthapuram’s official festival.
Interestingly, the Marxists and intellectuals owing allegiance to them have demanded that the entire treasure be distributed among the poor in the country.