The authorities have no choice left but to preserve the treasures found in the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in a museum under the temple with the highest safety measures, Rajan Gurukkal, historian and vice chancellor, Mahatma Gandhi University has said. According to him, “Whether vested in Crown or Devaswom, or both, choice of use is legally precluded.”
Reportedly, the treasure trove consists of many precious objects, overtly devotional gifts to the temple, Prof. Gurukkal said in a statement. It is true that there are secular objects too such as gems, gold and silver in bullion, coins, ornaments, apart from numerous artefacts — probably royal acquisitions by way of donations, fines and war booty. One of the six chambers, namely the ‘pandaravaka’ (vested in the Crown) is believed to house the royal treasure of the Travancore kings, as the name suggests.
According to him, historically, the temple dates back to the 9th century as one of the thirteen Vaishnava shrines sung by the Alvars (Vaishnava hymnists). With the ruling lineage of Travancore rising to prominence as a full blown dynasty, the temple, renovated and expanded by the kings, especially Marthandavarma (1729-58), became integral to the royal household. It is natural that the temple wealth and royal assets converged, enabling their preservation in the temple as hidden treasure for security reasons.
The treasure is unbelievably huge and invaluable and the debate is on, as to what should be done with the treasure. However, the discussions, predominantly by the people, so far have been largely sentimental, with the legal position of the treasure trove unclear, he said. It is a matter of tacit recognition that virtually Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple is the owner of the treasure, but without precluding royal control.
Irrespective of whether the treasure is vested in the Crown or Temple or both, it is archaeological wealth accumulated over several centuries. Legally speaking, there exists no choice other than preservation. Any objects of an archaeological treasure trove, except unworked natural objects, or minerals extracted from a natural deposit, or objects otherwise not designated to be of heritage value, belong to the nation.
Nevertheless, this hardly means that the national Government whose constitutional prerogative is only to preserve, can turn the objects into cash and spend it, unless enabled through a legislative intervention by the Parliament, Prof. Gurukkal pointed out. As such the Government can only preserve these objects of immense heritage value, under constitutional obligation. All presumption about the original source or owner of the treasure, and prescriptive suggestions about utilisation of the valuables therefore go unwarranted in the case of heritage objects.
As per the extant Acts, statutes and regulations, the Central Government is the sole constitutional authority over any potential treasure trove of national heritage value. There is a genealogy of legislations relating to the heritage treasure law in the country, starting with the Indian Treasure-Trove Act, 1878, and the Ancient
Monuments Preservation Act, 1904. The Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1951, and the States Reorganisation Act, 1956, improved with constitutional provisions into the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958, strengthened by the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act 1972, and supplemented by the Antiquities and Art Treasure Rules 1973, provide for the Union Government’s monopolistic control over heritage treasures.
The court has now democratised information about the existence of the treasure, and registered the items thereof for accountability, he pointed out. “Now people have a right to see them. It is extremely important academically too to record the finds. No choice left, the Government of India will have to come to terms with the constitutional responsibility of preserving the treasure in a museum under the temple with the highest safety measures, Prof. Gurukkal said.