Padmanabha Swamy Temple…One of the mystery temples in India..(In Detail)
Padmanabhaswamy Temple is located in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India. The temple is built in an intricate fusion of the indigenous Kerala style and the Dravidian style (kovil) of architecture associated with the temples located in the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu, featuring high walls, and a 16th-century Gopuram. While the Moolasthanam of the temple is the Ananthapuram Temple in Kasargod, architecturally to some extent, the temple is a replica of the Adikesava Perumal temple located in Kanyakumari District. It is the richest Hindu temple in the world. In terms of gold assets and precious stones, it is by far the wealthiest institution and place of worship of any kind in the recorded history of the world, with an estimated $22 billion worth of gold and jewels stored in underground vaults (not accounting for historical value). At the time of writing, only 5 of the 8 underground vaults had been opened and explored.
The principal deity Vishnu is enshrined in the “Anantha Shayanam” posture, the eternal yogic sleep on the serpent Adisheshan. Sree Padmanabhaswamy is the tutelary deity of the royal family of Travancore. The titular Maharaja of Travancore Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma is the trustee of the temple as Sree Padmanabhadasa, the slave of Lord Padmanabha. In line with the Temple Entry Proclamation, only those who profess the Hindu faith are permitted entry to the temple and devotees have to strictly follow the dress code. The name of the city of Thiruvananthapuram in Malayalam translates to “The City of Lord Ananta”, referring to the deity of Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
Several extant Hindu Texts like the Brahma Purana, Matsya Purana, Varaha Purana, Skanda Purana, Padma Purana, Vayu Purana, Bhagavata Purana and the Mahabharata mention this shrine. The Temple has been referred to in the (only recorded) Sangam Period of literature between 500 B.C and 300 A.D several times.One of the temple records states that the temple was founded on the 964 day after the kaliyuga started by Divakara muni who was a tulu brahmin (During the start of kaliyuga in parashurama kshetra the tulunad brahmins means Sthanika tulu brahmins). Many conventional historians and scholars are of the opinion that one of the names that the Temple had – “The Golden Temple” – literally was in cognizance of the fact that the Temple was already unimaginably wealthy by that point. Many extant pieces of Sangam Tamil literature and poetry, and even the later works of Ninth Century poet-saints like Nammalwar, refer to the Temple and even the city as having walls of pure gold. At some places, both the Temple and the entire city are often eulogized even as being made of gold, and the Temple as Heaven.
The temple is one of the 108 principal Divya Desams (“Holy Abodes”) in Vaishnavism, and is glorified in the Divya Prabandha,. The Divya Prabandha glorifies this shrine as being among the 13 Divya Desam in Malai Nadu (corresponding to present-day Kerala and some adjoining areas). The 8th century Alvar Nammalvar sang the glories of Padmanabha. The Ananthapuram Temple in Kasargod is believed to be the ‘Moolasthanam’ of the Temple.
The sage Vilvamangalathu Swamiyar, who resided near Ananthapuram Temple in Kasargod District, prayed to Lord Vishnu for his darshan or “auspicious sight”. The Lord is believed to have come in the guise of a little boy who was mischievous. The boy defiled the Idol which was kept for Puja. The sage became enraged at this and chased away the boy, who disappeared. After a long search, when he was walking on the banks of Arabian Sea, he heard a pulaya lady threatening her child that she would throw him in Ananthankadu. The moment the Swami heard the word Ananthankadu he was delighted. He proceeded to Ananthankadu based on the directions of the lady of whom he enquired. The Sage reached Ananthankadu searching for the boy. There he saw the boy merging into an Iluppa tree (Indian Butter Tree). The tree fell down and became Anantha Sayana Moorti (Vishnu reclining on the celestial snake Anantha). But the edifice that the Lord assumed was of an extraordinarily large size, with His head at Thiruvallom, navel at Thiruvananthapuram, and lotus-feet at Thrippadapuram (Thrippappur), making him some eight miles in length. The Sage requested the Lord to shrink to a smaller proportion that would be thrice the length of his staff. Immediately the Lord shrank to the form of the Idol that is seen at present in the Temple. But even then many Iluppa trees obstructed a complete vision of the Lord. The Sage saw the Lord in three parts – thirumukham, thiruvudal and thrippadam. Swami prayed to Padmanabha to be forgiven. The Swami offered Rice Kanji and Uppumanga (salted mango pieces) in a coconut shell to the Perumal which he obtained from the pulaya woman. The spot where the Sage had darsan of the Lord belonged to Koopakkara Potti and Karuva Potti. With the assistance of the reigning King and some Brahmin households a Temple was constructed. Koopakkara Potti was made the Tantri of the Temple. The Ananthankadu Nagaraja Temple still exists to the north west of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple. The Samadhi (final resting place) of the Swamiyar exists to the west of the Padmanabha Temple. A Krishna Temple was built over the Samadhi. This Temple, known as Vilvamangalam Sri Krishna Swami Temple, belongs to Thrissur Naduvil Madhom.
Travancore Royal Family
In the first half of the 18th century, in line with matrilineal customs, Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma, succeeded his uncle Rama Varma as king at the age of 23. He successfully suppressed the 700-year-old stranglehold of the Ettuveetil Pillamar (“Lords of the Eight Houses”) and his cousins following the discovery of conspiracies which the lords were involved in against the royal house of Travancore. The last major renovation of the Padmanabhaswamy temple commenced immediately after Anizham Thirunal’s accession to the musnud and the idol was reconsecrated in 906 ME (1731 AD). On 17 January 1750, Anizham Thirunal surrendered the kingdom of Travancore to Padmanabha Swamy, the deity at the temple, and pledged that he and his descendants would be vassals or agents of the deity who would serve the kingdom as Padmanabha Dasa. Since then, the name of every Travancore king was preceded by the title Sree Padmanabha Dasa; the female members of the royal family were called Sree Padmanabha Sevinis. The donation of the kingdom to Padmanabhaswamy was known as Thrippadi-danam. The final wishes of Anizham Thirunal on his passing at the age of 53 clearly delineated the historical relationship between the Maharaja and the temple: “That no deviation whatsoever should be made in regard to the dedication of the kingdom to Padmanabhaswamy and that all future territorial acquisitions should be made over to the Devaswom.”
In the sanctum sanctorum, Padmanabha reclines on the serpent Anantha or Adi Sesha. The serpent has five hoods facing inwards, signifying contemplation. The Lord’s right hand is placed over a Shiva lingam. Sridevi-Lakshmi, the Goddess of Prosperity and Bhudevi the Goddess of Earth, two consorts of Vishnu are by his side. Brahma emerges on a lotus, which emanates from the navel of the Lord. The deity is made from 12,000 saligramams. These saligrams are from the banks of the Gandaki River in Nepal, and to commemorate this certain rituals used to be performed at the Pashupatinath Temple. The deity of Padmanabha is covered with, “Katusarkara yogam”, a special ayurvedic mix, which forms a plaster that keeps the deity clean. The daily worship is with flowers and for the abhishekam, special deities are used.
The platforms in front of the vimanam and where the deity rests, are both carved out of a single massive stone and hence called “Ottakkal-mandapam.” On the orders of Marthanda Varma (1706–58), the Ottakkal-mandapam was cut out of a rock at Thirumala, about 4 miles (6.4 km) north of the temple. It measured 20 square feet (1.9 m2) by 2.5 feet (0.76 m) thick and was placed in front of the deity in the month of Edavom 906 M.E. (1731 AD). At the same time, Marthanda Varma also brought 12,000 shaligrams, aniconic representations of Vishnu, from the Gandaki River, north of Benares (now known as Varanasi) to the temple. These were used in the reconsecration of the Padmanabha.
In order to perform darshan and puja, one has to ascend to the mandapam. The Deity is visible through three doors – the visage of the reclining Lord and Siva Linga underneath the hand is seen through the first door; Sridevi and Bhrigu Muni in Katusarkara, Brahma seated on a lotus emanating from the Lord’s navel, hence the name, “Padmanabha”, gold abhisheka moorthies of Lord Padmanabha, Sridevi and Bhudevi, and silver utsava moorthi of Padmanabha through the second door; the Lord’s feet, and Bhudevi and Markandeya Muni in Katusarkara through the third door. Only the King of Travancore may perform sashtanga namaskaram, or prostrate on the “Ottakkal Mandapam”. It is traditionally held that anybody who prostrates on the mandapam has surrendered all that he possesses to the Deity. Since the ruler has already done that, he is permitted to prostrate on this mandapam.
Inside the Temple, there are two other important shrines, Thekkedom and Thiruvambadi, for the Deities, Ugra Narasimha and Krishna Swami respectively. Thiruvambadi shrine enjoys an independent status and predates the shrine of Padmanabha. Thiruvambadi shrine has its own namaskara mandapam, bali stones and flagmast. The Lord of Thiruvambadi is Parthasarathi, the Divine Charioteer of Arjuna. The granite idol of the Lord of Thiruvambadi was brought from Gujarat by seventy two families of Vrishni Vamsa Kshatriyas. As these Vrishnies belong to the lineage of Lord Krishna, they are known as Krishnan vakakkar. The two-armed granite idol, with one hand holding the whip and the other resting on the left thigh holding the conch close to it, is in standing posture. On Ekadasi days the Lord is dressed and decorated as Mohini. There are also shrines for Rama accompanied by Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman, Vishwaksena (the Nirmalyadhari of Vishnu and Remover of Obstacles), Vyasa, Ganapati, Sasta and Kshetrapala (who guards the temple). Grand idols of Garuda and Hanuman stand with folded hands in the Valiya balikkal area. The thevara idols of Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma and Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma are housed in the south east part of the Temple.
The foundation of the present gopuram was laid in 1566. The temple has a 100-foot, seven-tier gopuram made in the Pandyan style. The temple stands by the side of a tank, named Padma Theertham (meaning the lotus spring). The temple has a corridor with 365 and one-quarter sculptured granite-stone pillars with elaborate carvings which stands out to be an ultimate testimonial for the Vishwakarma sthapathis in sculpting this architectural masterpiece. This corridor extends from the eastern side into the sanctum sanctorum. An eighty-foot flag-staff stands in front of the main entry from the prakaram(closed precincts of a temple). The ground floor under the gopuram (main entrance in the eastern side) is known as the ‘Nataka Sala’ where the famous temple art Kathakali was staged in the night during the ten-day uthsavam (festival) conducted twice a year, during the Malayalam months of Meenam and Thulam.
Among the six vaults in the temple, Vault/ “Kallarai” B is very closely associated with Lord Sree Padmanabha and is not part of the Temple Treasury. On the orders of Maharaja Sri Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, the outermost ante-chamber of Kallara B was opened in 1931. In 2011, it was opened by the Observers appointed by the Supreme Court of India. But the Observers did not open the inner chamber which possibly houses a Srichakram, an idol of Padmanabha and countless valuables meant to enhance the potency of the Presiding Deity. Moreover, Devas, Rishis and Kanjirottu Yakshi reside in the inner chamber worshipping the Supreme Lord. The enchanting and ferocious forms of Kanjirottu Yakshi are painted on the south-west part of the main Sanctum. Lord Ugra Narasimha of Thekkedom is believed to be the Protector of Vault B. There is a serpent’s image on Kallara B indicating danger to anyone who opens it. A four-day Ashtamangala Devaprasnam conducted in August 2011 declared the inner chamber of Kallara B as forbidden territory.
Emily Gilchrist Hatch, who was in Trivandrum in 1933, recalls in her book, ‘Travancore: A Guide Book for the Visitor’ (Oxford University Press, 1933) the 1931 opening of the Vault and also a similar but unsuccessful attempt that had been made in 1908. “About 25 years ago,” she writes, “when the State needed additional money, it was thought expedient to open these chests and use the wealth they contained.” “A group of people” got together and attempted to enter the vaults with torches. When they found them “infested with cobras” they “fled for their lives.”
However, Gopal Subramanium in his report submitted to the Supreme Court in April 2014 recommended opening of this vault after conducting another Devaprasnam.
The Pushpanjali Swamiyar who is the highest spiritual dignitary of the Padmanabha Swamy Temple sent letters to the Chairperson of the Administrative Committee and the Executive Officer on February 8, 2016 expressing his strong opposition to the opening of Vault B.
Festival and Rites
There are many festivals related to this temple. The major festivals are bi-annual. The Alpashy festival which is in October/November and the Panguni festival which is in Tamil month Panguni, March/April, lasts for 10 days each. On the ninth day the Maharajah of Travancore, in his capacity as Thrippappoor Mooppan, escorts the deities to the vettakkalam for Pallivetta. Centuries back, the Pallivetta procession was said to pass through Kaithamukku, Kuthiravattom (Kunnumpuram), Pazhaya Sreekanteswaram and Putharikkandam. The festivals culminate with the Aarat (holy bath) procession to the Shankumugham Beach. The word Aarat refers to the purificatory immersion of the deities of the temple in sea. This event takes place in the evening. The Maharajah of Travancore escorts the Aarat procession on foot. The festival idols “Utsava Vigrahas” of Padmanabhaswamy, Narasimha Moorthi and Krishna Swami are given a ritual bath in the sea, after the prescribed pujas. After this ceremony, the idols are taken back to the temple in a procession that is lit by traditional torches, marking the conclusion of the festival.
A major annual festival related to Padmanabha temple is the Navaratri festival. The idols of Saraswati Amman, Mun Uditha Nangai (Parasakti who appeared before Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati to help them identify their husbands who had been transformed into infants by the power of chastity of Anasuya) and Kumara Swami (Murugan) are brought to the Kuthira malika palace in front of Padmanabha temple as a procession. This festival lasts for 9 days. The famous Swathi music festival is held every year during this festival.
The biggest festival in this temple is laksha deepam, which means hundred thousand (or one lakh) lamps. This festival is unique and commences once in 6 years. Prior to this festival, chanting of prayers and recitation of three vedas is done for 56 days (Murajapam). On the last day, hundred thousand oil lamps are lit in and around the temple premises. The next laksha deepam is slated on January 2014.
Temples where ‘Swamiyar Pushpanjali’ is conducted are claimants to extra sanctity. Sannyasins from any one of the monasteries founded by the disciples of Adi Sankara in Thrissur do pushpanjali (flower worship) daily to Padmanabha, Narasimha Moorthi and Krishna Swami. Of these monasteries, Naduvil Madhom is the most important as Vilvamangalathu Swamiyar, the founder of this Temple, belonged to this monastery. Initially, Koopakkara Potties were the Tantries of the Temple. Later, Tantram was transferred to Tharananallur Nambuthiripads of Iranjalakkuda. The Nambies, altogether four in number, are the Chief Priests of the Temple. Two Nambies – Periya Nambi and Panchagavyathu Nambi – are allotted to Padmanabha and one Nambi each to Narasimha Moorthi and Krishna Swami. The Nambies hail from either side of the Chandragiri River. They are appointed by the Pushpanjali Swamiyar.
The Padmanabhaswamy Temple and its property were controlled by the Ettara Yogam (King’s Council of Eight) with the assistance of Ettuveetil Pillamar (“Lords of the Eight Houses”). The Ettara Yogam consists of the Sabha and the Arachan (Maharaja of Travancore). The Pushpanjali Swamiyar, Koopakkara Potti, Vanchiyoor Athiyara Potti, Kollur Athiyara Potti, Muttavila Potti, Karuva Potti, Neythasseri Potti and Srikaryathu Potti are the members of the Sabha. The Pushpanjali Swamiyar presides over the meetings of the Sabha. Sreekaryathu Potti is the Sabhanjithan or Secretary of the Sabha. The decision taken by the Sabha can be implemented only if the Maharaja of Travancore approves of it.
In the past, only the Swamiyars of the Naduvil Madhom were appointed as Pushpanjali Swamiyars by the Maharaja of Travancore. Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma curtailed the authority of Ettara Yogam and liquidated the powerful Ettuveetil Pillamar. Ettara Yogam became an advisory and assenting body thereafter. Besides Naduvil Madhom, Munchira Madhom got the right to appoint Pushpanjali Swamiyars during his reign. In the recent past, Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma gave Pushpanjali rights to the Swamiyars of Thrikkaikattu Madhom and Thekke Madhom as well. Though the Maharaja is the appointing authority of the Pushpanjali Swamiyar, the former must do a Vechu Namaskaram when he sees the Swamiyar. With the passing away of Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma in December 2013, his nephew Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma became the titular Maharaja of Travancore in January 2014. Like his predecessors, Moolam Thirunal also got concurrence from the Ettara Yogam before assuming the title ‘Maharaja’. In the presence of the Maharaja designate, the Yogathil Pottimar and the Tantri, the Pushpanjali Swamiyar Maravanchery Thekkedathu Neelakanta Bharatikal signed on the Neettu (Order) of the Ettara Yogam giving recognition to Moolam Thirunal as Chirava Mooppan (Maharaja of Travancore) and Thrippappoor Mooppan (Administrator of the Temple). This ceremony took place at Kulasekhara Mandapam in Padmanabha Swamy Temple. Revathi Thirunal Balagopal Varma, grandson of Maharani Regent Pooradom Thirunal Sethu Lakshmi Bayi, is the titular Elayaraja of Travancore.
Extant Temple Records
A pertinent event in the long recorded history of the temple was the construction of a “granta-pura” (record-room) within the temple compound itself around 1425 A.D. by the Venad King Veera Iravi Iravi Varma, to store the “Mathilakam” (within-the-walls) records, as the then existing temple records were known. A major portion of those records (numbering around 30 lakhs of documents) from the Mathikalam, had been donated later to the Archives Department in 1867, at the time of the formation of the latter. Despite their cultural value, only a minuscule portion of these grantas (bundles) of cadjan leaf records, written mostly in ancient scripts of proto-Tamil and archaic-Malayalam, have been deciphered. The translations of this section of manuscripts by some scholars serve as a rare but very inadequate primary source material on the temple and its rich traditions.
The rest of the 30 lakh documents – three thousand bundles of records pertaining to the temple – each bundle consisting of over a thousand cadjan records – segregated under 70 “heads” – is still lying idle with the Archives Department. According to Aswathi Thirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi, a member of the Travancore Royal Family and author of a book on the temple, from a very early period in recorded history the temple had employed two kinds of ‘record writers’. One group was to record the proceedings and transactions of the Ettarayogam, a council of temple administrators, that included the then king. The other was to write and preserve the records of the day-to-day functioning of the temple, maintain correct accounts of the temple-treasury, and of temple-revenue-collections and temple-expenditure, and as well as write down all the other records, connected with the functioning of the temple.
Padmanabha Swamy Temple Treasure..(in Detail)
The temple and its assets belong to Lord Padmanabhaswamy, and were for a long time controlled by a trust, headed by the Travancore Royal family. However, for the present, the Supreme Court of India has divested the Travancore Royal Family from leading the management of the temple. T P Sundararajan‘s litigations changed the way the world looked at the Temple.
In June 2011, the Supreme Court directed the authorities from the archaeology department and the fire services, to open the secret chambers of the temple for inspection of the items kept inside. The temple has six hitherto known vaults (Kallaras), labeled as A to F, for book keeping purpose by the Court (Since, however, an Amicus Curie Report by Justice Gopal Subramaniam, in April 2014, has reportedly found two more further subterranean vaults that have been named G and H). While vaults A and B have been unopened over the past many years the vaults C to F have been opened from time to time. The two priests of the temple, the ‘Periya Nambi’ and the ‘Thekkedathu 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, while Vaults A and B would be opened only for the purpose of making an inventory of the articles and then closed. The review of the temple’s underground vaults was undertaken by a seven-member panel appointed by the Supreme Court of India to generate an inventory, leading to the enumeration of a vast collection of articles that are traditionally kept under lock and key. A detailed inventory of the temple assets, consisting of gold, jewels, and other valuables is yet to be made.
Among the reported findings, are a three-and-a-half feet tall solid pure golden idol of Mahavishnu, studded with hundreds of diamonds and rubies and other precious stones.Also found were an 18-foot-long pure gold chain, a gold sheaf weighing 500 kilos, a 36-kilo golden veil, 1200 ‘Sarappalli’ gold coin-chains that are encrusted with precious stones, and several sacks filled with golden artifacts, necklaces, diadems, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, gemstones, and objects made of other precious metals.Ceremonial attire for adorning the deity in the form of 16-part gold anki weighing almost 30 kilograms (66 lb), gold coconut shells studded with rubies and emeralds, and several 18th century Napoleonic era coins were found many other objects. In early-2012, an expert committee had been appointed to investigate these objects, which include lakhs of golden coins of the Roman Empire, that were found in Kottayam, in Kannur District. According to Vinod Rai, the former Comptroller-and-Auditor-General(CAG) of India, who had audited some of the Temple records from 1990, in August 2014, in the already opened vault A, there is an 800-kilo hoard of gold coins dating to around 200 B.C, each coin priced at over Rs.2.70 crore (US$0.5 million). Also found was a pure Golden Throne, studded with hundreds of diamonds and fully precious stones, meant for the 18-foot-long Deity. According to varying reports, at least three, if not more, solid gold crowns have been found, studded with diamonds and other precious stones. Some other media reports also mention hundreds of pure gold chairs, thousands of gold pots and jars, among the articles recovered from Vault A and its antechambers.
This revelation has solidified the status of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple as the wealthiest place of worship in the world. It is conservatively estimated that the value of the monumental items is close to Rs.1.2 lakh crore or Rs.1.2 trillion (US$18 billion). If the antique and cultural value were taken into account these assets could be worth ten times the current market price.
These estimates were on the basis of the revelations since July 2011, when five vaults were opened, with the at least one remaining vault (B), which is the largest, still closed. One of the oldest existing estimates regarding Vault B, which can be considered to be at least as reliable as any other made since the discovery of the hidden treasure (or assets) of the Temple in 2011, was by the Travancore Royal Family itself in the 1880s (when an older existing estimate was updated). According to it, the gold and precious stones contained in Vault B, which is by far the largest and the only vault (of the reported six) that is unopened so far, since the discovery of the treasure, were worth ₹12,000 crore. Considering the subsequent inflation of the rupee, and the increase in the prices of gold and precious metals and precious stones since in general, the treasure in the unopened vault B alone, would be worth at least Rs.50 trillion (US$1 trillion) in present-day terms, without the cultural value being factored in. As a reference, the entire GDP (revenues in all forms) of the Mughal Empire at its very zenith under Aurangzeb (in 1690), was a comparatively meagre US$90 billion in modern-day terms. In fact, at its richest, the Mughal “treasury” (in Akbar’s and Jahangir’s and Shah Jahan’s periods) consisted of seven tonnes of gold, along with eighty pounds of uncut diamonds, a hundred pounds each of rubies and emeralds and six hundred pounds of pearls. Also, in contrast, the wealthiest Nizam of Hyderabad, Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII, was worth a relatively minuscule Rs.660 crore (all his conceivable assets combined) in the 1940s, while his entire treasure of jewels, would amount to just US$150 Million to US$500 million variously in today’s terms.The hitherto-uncovered treasure itself is worth millions of times that of the so-called British crown jewels. Even with only the five smaller of the reported eight vaults being opened (the larger three vaults and all their ante-chambers still remaining closed), the treasure found so far, is considered to be by far the largest collection of items of gold and fully precious stones in the recorded history of the world.
The valuables are believed to have been accumulated in the temple over several thousands of years, having been donated to the Deity (and subsequently stored there), by various Dynasties, like the Cheras, the Pandyas, the Travancore Royal Family, the Kolathiris, the Pallavas, the Cholas, many other Kings in the recorded history of both South India and beyond, and from the rulers and traders of Mesopotamia, Jerusalem, Greece, Rome, and later, the various colonial powers from Europe, and other countries as well. Some people have suggested that a part of the stored riches reached the Travancore kings in the later years in the form of tax as well as conquered wealth of other South Indian kingdoms. Most scholars however believe that this was accumulated over thousands of years, given the mention of the Deity and the Temple in several extant Hindu Texts, the Sangam Tamil literature (500 BC to 300 AD wherein it was referred to as the “Golden Temple” on account of its then unimaginable wealth), and the treasures consist of countless artifacts dating back to the Chera, Pandya, and Greek and Roman epochs. The ancient late-Tamil-Sangam epic Silappatikaram (c 100 AD to 300 AD at the latest) speaks of the then Chera King Cenkuttuvan receiving gifts of gold and precious stones from a certain ‘Golden Temple’ (Arituyil-Amardon) which is believed to be the Pasmanabhaswamy Temple. Gold had been mined as well as panned from rivers in Thiruvananthapuram, Kannur, Wayanad, Mallappuram, Palakkad and Kollam districts for thousands of years. The Malabar region (as a part of the “Tamilakam” region of recorded history) had several centers of trade and commerce since the Sumerian Period ranging from Vizhinjam in the South to Mangalore in the North. Also, at times like the invasion by Tipu Sultan, the other then-extant temples in the then Kerala and extreme Southern region (like the Kolathiri-ruled area), took refuge in Thiruvananthapuram and stored their wealth for safekeeping, in the Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Also, much of the treasures housed in the much larger and as-yet-unopened vaults, as well as in the much smaller cellars that have been opened, date back to long before the institution of the so-called Travancore Kingdom, e.g. the 800-kg hoard of gold coins from 200 B.C that was mentioned by Vinod Rai. Noted archaeologist and historian R. Nagaswamy has also stated that several records exist in Kerala, of offerings made to the Deity, from several parts of Kerala. Lastly, it has to be remembered that in the Travancore Kingdom, a distinction was always made between the Government (State) Treasury (Karuvelam), the Royal Family Treasury (Chellam), and the Temple Treasury (Thiruvara Bhandaram or Sri Bhandaram). During the reign of Maharani Gowri Lakshmi Bayi, hundreds of temples that were mismanaged in the Kerala region, were brought under the Government. The excess ornaments in these temples were also transferred to the Vaults of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Instead the funds of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple were utilised for the daily upkeep of these temples.
On 4 July 2011 the seven-member expert team tasked with taking stock of the temple assets decided to postpone opening of Chamber ‘B’. This chamber is sealed with an iron door with the image of a cobra on it and it has not been opened, due to the belief opening it would result in much misfortune. 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. The seven-member team will consult with some more experts on 8 July 2011 and then they may take the final decision on opening of chamber ‘B’. An Ashtamangala Devaprasnam conducted in the Temple to discern the will of the Lord revealed that any attempts to open Chamber ‘B’ would cause Divine displeasure and that the holy articles in the other chambers were defiled in the inventorying process. The original petitioner whose court action led to the inventory taking, T.P. Sundarajan, died in July 2011, adding credence to those who believe in the folklore around the temple. Prior to this now-famous incident in July 2011, one of the several vaults in the Temple which was not any of the Vaults B (untouched after the 1880s) or G or H (both rediscovered supposedly by the Amicus Curie only in mid-2014), was opened in 1931. This was possibly an antechamber of any of the Vaults A or C or D or E or F that may not have been opened yet. This was necessitated due to the severe depression that India was going through as was the entire world. The Palace and State Treasuries had run almost dry. The small group of people including the King and the priests found a granary-sized structure almost full with mostly gold and some silver coins and jewels. Surmounted on top of it were hundreds of pure gold pots. There were four coffers filled with gold coins as well. Also found was a larger chest fixed to the ground with six sections in it. They were full of gold jewelry encrusted with diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds. Besides these, were four more chests of old coins (not of gold), and they were carried back to the Palace and State Treasuries for counting. from.
The Kerala High Court ruled in 2011 that the state government should take over the control of the temple and its assets, but the Travancore royal family appealed to the Supreme Court. An independent report was commissioned, and was completed in November 2012, finding no evidence that the royal family were expropriating the treasures.
As of end-April 2016, vaults B, G, and H along with their several ante-chambers were yet to be opened; while inventorying of the items in vaults C, D, E, and F were completed (in August 2012) and formal inventorying of vault A had commenced. Several hundred pots and other items made of gold, that are used for daily rituals or intermittently for ceremonies in the Temple, were not inventoried as the Temple-priests expressed strong objections. Over 1.02 lakh ‘articles’ had been retrieved from Vault A and its ante-chambers, till that point, though only a small part of them had been inventoried then. An ‘article’ could be either an individual item, or collections of several items, examples of the latter being a cache of 1,95,000 ‘Rassappanams’ (Gold coins) weighing 800 kg and sets of Navaratnas (collections of nine different kinds of diamonds). There are over 60,000 fully precious stones, set as parts of larger pieces of gold jewelery, amongst those items inventoried as of March 2013. The results of the inventory are not to be released until the completion of the whole process by order of the Supreme Court of India.
In April 2014, Amicus Curiae advocate Gopal Subramaniam filed a 577-page report to the Supreme court of India alleging malpractices in the administration of the temple. According to him, the authorities failed to perform their ethical duties by opening many bank accounts, trusts and also not filing Income Tax returns for the past ten years. He alleged that Vault B was opened despite a previous ruling of the Supreme court prohibiting the same.
The report states, “The large amount of gold and silver, the discovery of which was a shock to the Amicus Curiae, is a singular instance of mismanagement. The presence of a gold plating machine is also yet another unexplained circumstance. This discovery raises a doubt of the organized extraction by persons belonging to the highest echelons. There appears to be resistance on the part of the entire State apparatus in effectively addressing the said issues. The lack of adequate investigation by the police is a telling sign that although Thiruvananthapuram is a city in the State of Kerala, parallelism based on monarchic rule appears to predominate the social psyche.” The Supreme court bench comprising justice R. M. Lodha and justice A. K. Patnaik ordered a change in administration by forming a 5-member committee and appointing Vinod Rai as auditor. The committee will include Thiruvananthapuram District judge K. P. Indira, Thantri and Nambi of the temple and two members to be decided in consultation with the Government of Kerala. Additionally, IAS officer and former administrator of the temple, K. N. Satish was appointed as executive officer. The Government of Kerala agreed to comply with the Supreme court order. Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma remains the trustee of the temple and still does the ritual duties as the titular Maharaja of Travancore, but has no responsibility regarding the temple management after the interim ruling by the Supreme Court, The report also found the existence of two more vaults that were never even made mention of or hitherto spoken about.
The report named them Vault ‘G’ and Vault ‘H’. Like Vault ‘B’ and all its antechambers, both these vaults and their antechambers were yet to have been opened, as of May 2014. The report also mentions that Mr. Subramanian found several large trunks filled with artifacts made of precious metals and precious stones outside of the eight vaults and their antechambers.
The CBI and the Intelligence Bureau have red-flagged the appointment of Gopal Subramaniam as a Judge in the Supreme Court. The IB cites Mr Subramaniam’s report on Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple as one of the instances where he relied heavily on his spiritual instincts rather than rational logic and hard facts. In his second report on Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple, Mr Subramaniam himself reveals,”It was his morning ritual of [shutting] his mind and seeking guidance, which resulted in discoveries in this direction.”
The Amicus Curiae has also been accused of conducting poojas in the Temple in violation of its customs. He performed poojas at the Thevarappura in the Temple and in front of the Vedavyasa Shrine. Despite opposition from the Royal Family and the Tantries of the Temple, he pulled out a stone Yantra from the nearby Marthandan Madhom Palace and did pooja on it for several days. The Tantries explained that the Yantram had no connection with the Padmanabhaswami Temple and that it was for the protection of the Palace. But the Amicus Curiae insisted on having it installed in the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Temple. Due to severe opposition from the Tantries the Yantram remains where it was. Every morning, Lord Padmanabha is to be awakened only by blowing the conch shell and chanting the Sripada Sooktham. But the Amicus Curiae introduced the daily rendering of Venkatesa Suprabhatam to awaken the Lord. The Supreme Court requested the Tantri to take the final decision on whether the Suprabhatam could be sung. Following that, the Senior Tantri Nedumpilli Tharananalloor Parameswaran Namboothiripad directed the Temple authorities to stop the chanting of Suprabhatam forthwith as it was causing ‘Anya Mantra Yajana Dosham’ (affliction due to worshipping the Deity with incompatible mantras) to the Presiding Deity and the Temple. As atonement for this dosham, the Tantri wants Vedic scholars to chant 12 ‘muras’ each of Rig Veda and Yajur Veda. In his first report to the Supreme Court, the Amicus Curiae directed the Tantries to examine whether a Sri Yantra can be installed in the Sanctum Sanctorum in front of the utsava moorthi.
According to a report by Comptroller and Auditor General of India Vinod Rai, records shared with him show that Vault B has been opened a number of times in recent decades: twice in 1991 and five times in 2002. It also shows it was opened after 2011 against the court’s ruling. Speculation is that it has been opened several more times than actually recorded. Record states that some silver items were removed and replaced by other gold items, also later removed. Once Vinod Rai’s report was out, Princess Aswathi Thirunal Gowri Lakshmi Bayi clarified that Mr Rai could be referring to one of Vault B’s ante-rooms, which was opened even in 2011 by the Supreme Court-appointed observers. The anteroom leads into another room which has never been opened.
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