The head of the erstwhile royal family of Travancore, Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma, on Friday informed the Supreme Court that neither he nor any of his family members was making any claim to the wealth or properties of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram.
Senior counsel K.K. Venugopal, appearing for him, made this submission before a Bench of Justice R.V. Raveendran and Justice A.K. Patnaik, hearing special leave petitions against a Kerala High Court order for a government takeover of the administration of the temple.
Referring to the substantial quantity of valuable jewels and other artefacts found in the underground ‘kallaras' (safe vaults) of the temple in recent days as a court-appointed panel started opening them and making an inventory of their contents, Mr. Venugopal said: “The royal family is not claiming any ownership. No part of the property belongs to any member of the family. The Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple is a public temple and they are only trustees.”
Mr. Venugopal added: “The head of the Travancore family, Mr. Marthanda Varma, believed that the treasure should be used judiciously for religious and social uplift, running veda patasalas and maintenance of other Hindu temples which are not in good condition. The unique artefacts made as offerings to the deity show to what extent people are prepared to part with their wealth for the sake of God.”
Counsel said: “Newspapers and the media say that the value of the treasure is over Rs. 1 lakh crore and this is the richest temple in the world, even richer than the Vatican, but the intrinsic value of precious jewellery and copper coins must be assessed by an expert.”
Justice Raveendran, in a lighter vein, said: “By saying this is the richest temple in the world, you are defaming Lord Balaji of the Tirupati temple because it is always considered the richest temple.”
When Justice Raveendran said that “we are concerned with preservation and conservation of the property and not its valuation,” Mr. Venugopal said: “The value must be known, perhaps for using the proceeds for religious or social benefits. They cannot be allowed to lie in the kallaras. The artefacts may be kept in a museum independent of the temple.”
Justice Raveendran told counsel: “We are concerned in preserving the temple tradition and its sanctity. In the name of videography somebody should not go inside the temple sanctum sanctorum. When people know that these jewellery or artefacts are in the kallaras, instead of looking at the deity, they will be looking only at the kallaras and the focus will shift from God to [the] kallaras.”
The Bench, therefore, asked Mr. Varma and the State of Kerala to give suggestions on how the artefacts could be preserved and protected without affecting the temple tradition.
The Bench directed that until further orders, the opening of Kallara ‘B' should be postponed. Kallara ‘A', already opened, need not be re-opened for the present.
The Bench posted the matter for further hearing on July 14.