Viewed against the tumult of the last seven days when a vast collection of gold, silver, precious stones and priceless jewellery were discovered in the vaults of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple here, Monday was a quiet day.
On Monday, Vault E — which is regularly opened by the chief priest of the temple — was opened and inventoried. Golden crowns and ornaments used to adorn the main deity were found in it.
The seven-member Supreme Court-appointed committee, which is inventorying the six vaults of the temple, will meet on July 8 to discuss the modalities of opening Vault B, the only one which remains to be opened. Access beyond a point to this vault is blocked by a thick door resembling that of a strong room. A preliminary inspection of the vault on June 29 revealed numerous silver articles.
The vaults are being inventoried following a Supreme Court order based on a petition filed by a former IPS officer and Supreme Court lawyer, T.P. Sundara Rajan.
June 30, 2011 was, quite literally, a ‘golden day' for the temple. On that day, the panel unearthed a vast collection of idols and artefacts studded with precious stones, including diamonds, rubies and emeralds, in a subterranean chamber of vault A. Golden crowns and staffs and hundreds of kilos of vintage coins were also found.
Though it was widely known that the vaults were a treasure trove, the sheer volume and diversity of the invaluable articles brought to light from Vault A were nothing short of astonishing. However, can a price tag be placed on these riches which have been assiduously built up and zealously guarded over centuries by the kings and queens of erstwhile Travancore? The sovereigns of Travancore ruled their kingdom as ‘Padmanabhadasas,' the servants of the presiding deity.
The media has been awash with reports that the riches of the articles amount to thousands of crores of rupees. However, the Supreme Court panel is only counting and weighing the treasure. Their value, including antique value, is not being assessed. In fact, Mr. Rajan has made a written submission to the committee that without an assessment of the value of the contents, the inventory would not be complete and proper.
Some of the objects found — the idol of Mahavishnu made of gold and studded with ‘navaratnas', for instance — are deemed to be invaluable by a representative of the Department of Archaeology who is a panel member. So, any ‘value' assigned to any article would only be a guesstimate for now. Also, there are those who argue that the ‘value' of religious artefacts would be much more than just the value of the gold they are made of.
Another important aspect is that the temple has suddenly become a “security concern.” The Kerala government has drawn up a special security plan which includes the deployment of armed policemen and round-the-clock mobile police patrolling. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy on Sunday reviewed the security arrangements with top police officials.
The Supreme Court has ordered that the contents of vaults A and B should be inventoried and placed back.
Considerable anxiety has arisen, mainly among the devotees, regarding the future of these riches. A dominant opinion appears to be that these should be preserved and protected for posterity. The final word on this may well come from the Supreme Court.
Keywords: Padmanabhaswamy temple treasure