While there is no bar on spending the treasure found in Sree Padmanabhaswami Temple for public welfare, only the temple authorities, including the erstwhile Maharaja of Travancore, is competent to decide how it should be spent, according to the former Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research, M.G.S. Narayanan.

Speaking to The Hindu on Tuesday, Dr. Narayanan welcomed Kerala Chief Minister Oomen Chandy's statement that the treasure belonged to the temple. He said Mr. Chandy deserved appreciation for foiling attempts by certain vested interests to create confusion in the minds of people about the ownership of the treasure.

Claims being made by self-styled experts and historians were not based on documentary evidence. They were coloured by political and communal bias, he said.

There was documentary evidence to prove that the treasure belonged to the temple. The Travancore Manual, prepared by Nagamayyah in the early 20{+t}{+h} century, made it clear that the temple administration was under the management of “ettara yogam” (a group of eight-and-half persons), and this was interpreted by many historians to mean eight Brahmins and a member of the Travancore royal family.

Dr. Narayanan read out passages from the manual, which said the temple enjoyed annual revenue of Rs.75, 000, and it was independent of the government. The manual also indicated that the temple coffers contained huge quantities of money, gold and precious stones, being “offerings of ages.”

“There can be no doubt about the ownership of the temple and its wealth. Only the temple authorities, including the former Maharajah of Travancore, can decide how its money could be spent,” he said, according to documents studied by scholars.

However, Dr. Narayanan conceded that the instrument of accession governing Travancore's integration with the Indian Union was not examined to find out if there was anything relevant to this issue. He felt that unlike several temples from where huge caches of gold and other valuable were plundered, the valuables kept in the vaults of Sree Padmanabhaswami Temple and a few other temples in other parts of the State remained beyond the reach of invaders because they could not get past the Western Ghats. Another reason was that no one, including the king, dared to steal temple property those days since it was widely considered a heinous sin.

Dr. Narayanan believed that the treasure must be offerings from devotees as well as from the king himself. Besides his usual offerings to the deity, the king also made offerings to atone for the grabbing of the valuables by his army from less powerful kings and their wealthy subjects in neighbouring places during armed invasions that were not unusual those days.

However, he said, it would not be correct to contend that since the temple wealth included valuables seized during conquests, it should be treated as “people's money.” This was because all valuables, including those from the king, became temple property once they were offered to it.

Rubbishing the claim that the treasure should be brought under the purview of the Indian Treasure Trove Act, Dr. Narayanan said only unclaimed valuables came under its ambit. “The valuables belonged to the temple, which is a private property of which its deity is the legal entity. Its authorised trustees who manage its affairs are the competent authority to decide how its wealth should be spent.”

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