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Updated: August 1, 2011 13:09 IST

The provenance of the temple treasure

T. S. Subramanian
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Anizhom Thirunal Marthanda Varma (regnal years 1729 to 1758 CE)
Anizhom Thirunal Marthanda Varma (regnal years 1729 to 1758 CE)

The collection being unearthed at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram principally comprises contributions from the Travancore kings over a long period, say researchers.

Several kings of the Travancore dynasty, from Anizhom Thirunal Marthanda Varma (regnal years 1729 to 1758 CE) to Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma who passed away in 1991, would have contributed handsomely to the treasures that have been discovered at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, say scholars knowledgeable about the history of the dynasty and the royal family. An inventory of the fabulous collection, kept in secret subterranean vaults near the sanctum of the temple, is under way on orders from the Supreme Court.

Anizhom Thirunal would have made the most significant contribution, assert scholars.

Anizhom Thirunal, known as the architect of Travancore state, was a far-sighted ruler. It was during his rule that the temple got its present shape. In her book Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple (1995), Aswathi Thirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi, a member of the Travancore royal family, calls him “the maker of the modern Travancore.”

Those who hold the view that Anizhom Thirunal made priceless gifts to the temple include M.G. Sasibhooshan, author of several books on Kerala's arts, history and culture; T. Satyamurthy, former Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India (Chennai Circle); K.K. Ramamurthy, former Superintending Archaeologist, ASI (Thrissur Circle); and S. Balusami, Associate Professor of Tamil at Madras Christian College in Chennai. Dr. Satyamurthy was Director of the Kerala Archaeology Department from 1988 to 1993, on deputation from the ASI.

Every Travancore king would have made priceless gifts to them: this was their consensus. The kings' commanders, merchants and other devotees would also have made donations.

Foreign donations

Another important contributor to the wealth was Bhoothala Veera Marthanda Varma of the 16th century CE. He belonged to the Venad dynasty, a forerunner to the Travancore dynasty, said Dr. Balusami. Bhoothala Veera Marthanda Varma expanded Venad territory by capturing the area around the Tamiraparani river belt in southern Tamil Nadu, and his rule extended up to Kayal village near present-day Tuticorin. He built palaces for himself at Padmanabhapuram and Kalakkad, in what is now Tamil Nadu. There is a sculpture of Bhoothala Veera Marthanda Varma in the Satya Vagisvarar temple at Kalakkad near Tirunelveli.

Even Admiral Eustatius De Lennoy, who led the Dutch East India Company's forces which Anizhom Thirunal's forces defeated in 1741 in the Colachel war, made donations to the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple. “That's why you have Dutch coins, Belgium cut-glasses and Portuguese coins in the vaults,” said Mr. Ramamurthy. Admiral Eustatius De Lennoy ultimately became the Valiya Kappithan (commander-in-chief) of the Travancore forces of Anizhom Thirunal.

Colonel Munroe, who was the British Resident in the Travancore kingdom during the 19th century, had made gifts to the temple. In Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple, Aswathi Thirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi says that Colonel Munroe, in gratitude for a favour done, “submitted to the Temple, along with a gaily decorated horse, a big circular gold-plated umbrella with green glass stones suspended all around the frame. This accompanies the Deities during the Siveli processions at the time of the festivals, even now.”

A number of researchers are unanimous in their opinion that the riches were kept in the temple because “the temple was the safest place to do so.” The Travancore rulers were great devotees of Padmanabha Swamy and they offered their entire kingdom to him. They took pride in calling themselves “Padmanabha Dasas.” Their Hindu subjects were equally devoted to the deity. Since the temple was well-guarded, “royal property was also hoarded there,” said Dr. Satyamurthy.

Babu Paul, a former Chief Secretary of Kerala, said: “It is probable that at least over the last 300 years, whatever surplus the State had could have been kept in the temple because it was the safest place to do so.”

Fear of fire

Fear of fire guided the decision to keep the riches in underground vaults lined by granite blocks. Fire had broken out several times in the temple, destroying parts of it. “It is only natural that fire will break out because you have the ‘vilakku madom' and ‘deepa madom' [areas to light lamps] where hundreds of lamps are lit,” said Professor Sasibhooshan.

“There is a clear-cut inscription in Vattezhuthu in the Ottakkal mantapam area” in the temple, said Mr. Ramamurthy. “This speaks of renovation after a major fire engulfed it.” The sanctum, the vilakku madom and the deepa madom were rebuilt after the fire. Everything was rebuilt on instructions from Anizhom Thirunal, circa 1729/1731 to 1734 CE, the former ASI officer said. There was another fire on October 28, 1934.

Items in vaults

The priceless items in the vaults include a one-foot tall idol of Vishnu, of solid gold, a 10-foot long gold chain, gold pots, bags of diamonds, hundreds of kilograms of gold trinkets, hundreds of Roman gold coins and Napoleonic era gold coins.

Other riches include, authoritative sources said, gold kasu mala (necklace made of gold coins), ‘sarapalli mala' also called ‘avil mala,' gold waist bands called ‘udyanam,' poothali necklace, kolusu vala (anklets), chandra padaka and a big, gold sarapalli mala called ‘Bheeman sarapalli mala.' The crowns, necklaces and waist band do not have inscriptions.

The treasure also includes a Sree Krishna idol in solid gold; three crowns studded with diamonds, pearls and rubies; gold staff and plates; Belgium diamonds and emeralds. Other items include a golden ‘anki', or full-length dress, for the reclining Padmanabha, made in 16 parts; an ornament studded with diamonds for the deity's chest, two coconut shell replicas of pure gold, and Vijayanagara period coins.

There are French coins and the Dutch East India Company's coins, Roman gold coins called Aureus, Roman silver coins, Venetian ducats, drachmas, and so on. “Five head-loads of Roman gold coins were found in 1858 at a place called Kottayam near Kozhikode. The hoard of Roman gold coins found in the temple vaults may belong to that discovery,” said Dr. Satyamurthy.

Researchers agreed that virtually nothing found in the vaults would be war booty. If all the Mathilagam records (in Tamil, Vattezhuthu, and in Malayalam, Kolezhuthu, on palm leaves), which are royal records dealing with the Padmanabhaswamy temple, are transcribed, details of the period to which the riches belong and who gifted them to the temple will be available, they added.

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The finding of the immense and invaluable treasures in the hidden vaults of Sree Pamanabhaswamy temple is a matter of immense pride and delight for all Keralamites.However, may I point out that it is not so ancient as some of the other great temples in Kerala, for instance the Bhadrakaali temple in Kodungallur, the Siva temple in Vaikom, the Ganapathy temple in Kottarakara. Now that Sree Padmanabhaswamy has become renowned throughout the world, it would be most opportune for devotees of the deity to found a trust to establish a world class university named after him in order to promote the study of Sanathana Dharma and the principle of OM SHANTI on which it is ultimately based,since the modern world is made increasingly violent by powerful nations. Let it be the core of India's foreign policy.As I have said in public meetings in Thiruvananthapuram, I am an ancient Christian by faith and an ancient Hindu by culture.In ancient Syriac 'Hendu' denotes a race.

from:  Bishop Mar George Theckedath
Posted on: Jul 12, 2011 at 20:02 IST

Sir,I read with interest the turmoil cause by the discovery of the treasure,and I remembered one famous picture "Virapandian Kattabhomman".There is a famous moment in the movie,when Shivaji says to the British representative:"Who are you to put a tax on my land".So we can say the same about the ideas that we read here and there concerning the use of the treasure.Who are we to say do this or do that about the treasure?I'm astonished that nobody thinks about the past on this matter.I try to imagine what were the ideas of the persons who decided many centuries ago to bury this treasure in the temple.Why they have done this?Here is the mistery?Was it a wish?Was it an offering to Lord Vishnu? We must respect and protect their wishes carefully,because it is the legacy of the Indian past.This the main duty of the central and local Government,and the duty of the citizens of the city,and others.So we can give a good lesson to the future generation about the true nature of Indian identity.

from:  Sougoumar MAYOURA
Posted on: Jul 11, 2011 at 04:12 IST

The dedication of Travencoor Maharajas is Great.Their wisdom stands elevated. Now we can think of a internationl museum at Thiruvanathapuram to attract tourists which can give a livelihood for many so that the maharajas known as anna dadav can once again get endorsed.

from:  santhosh kumar
Posted on: Jul 11, 2011 at 00:42 IST

Till the value of the jewels kept in the cellars were not known, we could safely presume that they are safe.Now that the Treasure's presence is known, with comparison of its value to those of Balaji/Vatican, this is an open invitation to some to commence drawing their plans.Gods alone can protect their wealth!!

from:  K P Natarajan
Posted on: Jul 10, 2011 at 20:53 IST

It would be blasphemous on the part of the govt to take over the treasures of temple.

from:  muslimbhagawat
Posted on: Jul 10, 2011 at 19:21 IST

While the suggestion made in the first comment by "VKMO," to make a novie on the treasures found in the vaults of Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram is very cogent, I am afraid that the other suggestion to distribute $10 million worth of the immense tresures to museums in India and around the world, is by no means desirable,and would be opposed by those in legal custody of it.
It must be remembered that our great Maharajas who donated the precious items go teir wealth from what was collected from subjects belonging to different religions.Now that Maharaja Marthanda Varma has, as reported, clrified that he was not making a personal claim to the treasures,the Trust established by the Royal family is in charge.The sacred ornaments nust be kept in the temple iself.But the Trust could sell part of the solid gold to found a
Sree Padmanabha University or for humanitarian projects.

from:  Bishop Mar George Theckedath
Posted on: Jul 10, 2011 at 19:01 IST

Mr. VKMO's suggesstion reflects how people are crazy about money in this era. The value of the treasures is unimaginable. To convert it into billions and millions is ridiculous

from:  nagasubramanian
Posted on: Jul 10, 2011 at 17:54 IST

I believe that there are many temples in India which has hoards of treasure.But the important question is that this all money and treasure can't be used for public good.Can't it be used to remove poverty? Still,there are many people in India who are going to bed without food. Can't this be used to uplift the society? One lakh crore of money in the kitty ,but can't be used.It's just like having water but not drinking it.

from:  Mayur Verma
Posted on: Jul 10, 2011 at 15:25 IST

The temple trustees who have safeguarded these wealth all these years are quite capable of arriving at a decision to put the wealth for better use. Yes! if a museum is opened exclusively for these items in the temple premises the ordinary devotees can have a darshan of God's ornaments. The Royal family of Thiruvidhankoor have practically demonstrated, in this age of avarice, that devotion to God is much superior than the valuable gems, gold etc. I salute them.

from:  M V Rangaraajan
Posted on: Jul 10, 2011 at 14:02 IST

My heartiest pranamam to Lord Padmanabhaswamy I am north Indian who has lived in Thiruvananthpuram for 30 years. happiest day was when we came to know Supreme Court stay. The humble raja saying every treasure belongs to lord. People having great faith in lord. my30years ofliving there has given me the realisation of simplicity and humbleness and people of all religion mixing on marriages and religious functions. Kerala is truly a god's own country.

from:  Beena Grover
Posted on: Jul 10, 2011 at 10:59 IST

Personally, I think about $10 million worth of the treasure along with all the photos can be given to each of about 30 or 40 museums in major cities of India and around the world. That would not reduce the value of the inventory left in Kerala very much. But it would fetch large revenues. Add to that a movie made about Travancore Royal Family, the temple and featuring the treasure. That would also flood the state with tourists, and bring revenue to Kerala of about $1 billion per year. Nice return on the value of the treasure.

from:  VKMO
Posted on: Jul 10, 2011 at 09:50 IST

We are proud inheriters of this hoary treasures.The treasures found in the secret chamber belongs to the Lord. we the humble devotees should remain as HIS devotees.It should be kept as it is.Its position should not be altered.No more searches for more treasures,lest doom will befall on us,if we are greedy.It reminds me of Parama Pada Chart-Ladder and Snake game.We found treasures as if we climbed all the ladders successfully,let not bitten by the big snake,by attempting to open the remaining vaults.The riches we got are too much for the people and too litle for the Lord.Beware of the dangers ahead in other vaults.Descricptions of snakes on the doors symbolic warning to the greedy.Let the Govt. keep a vigil over all other temples in the region and the Country,lest tomb hunters of the Egypt who plundered the rich tombs of Paraohs may emerge here too, tempted by the rich treasures found. We share this honour and dignity with the proud Keralites.

from:  Dharmapuri K.Bala Sundram
Posted on: Jul 10, 2011 at 07:25 IST

I fully subscribe to the view that the fabulous find be kept in museum specially created for the purpose. The artifacts are of great and immense significance and has incalculable value as antiques. These represents the pride of ancient Indian culture. The generations of Indians will have immense pride in seeing them preserved securely in a place specifically constructed in the vicinity of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple.

from:  N.G. Krishnan
Posted on: Jul 9, 2011 at 17:56 IST

Wonderful piece of an article that gives lot of interesting information.

from:  K P Natarajan
Posted on: Jul 9, 2011 at 13:08 IST

I salute the Travancore rulers for giving away their riches to the deity over the centuries. What magnificient offerings! Different views are expressed by scholars and commoners that the treasure should be a) kept in a well-guarded museum which would, perhaps, boost tourism b) taken over by the government to improve the country's finances c) handed over back to the trustees of the temple for their decision to use in whatever manner d) build schools, hospitals, etc for public welfare or e) return to the vaults and sealed once again for posterity. However, I saw an interesting discussion on WIN TV - the three commentators SV Sekar, Dr Hande and Jayaraman were unanimous in their views that the treasure belonged to the Temple (Deity), the trustees should decide what is best and the Government must not have any say in this matter. It is heartening to note that the CM of Kerala toes this line.

from:  D. Chandramouli
Posted on: Jul 9, 2011 at 05:43 IST

VS Achuthanandan is a survivor of the brutality of the Royalty against freedom fighters. He has described the Treasure as blood-coated loot. Travancore acceded to India after a lot of bargaining and haggling. They wanted most of the public real estate including the Temple as their private property. Compare this to the Cochin accession whose Maharaja's only demand was for a free copy of the government Panchangam every year. VP Menon has written that he actually wept while receiving the Accession document from such a great Maharaja.

from:  R.Sajan
Posted on: Jul 9, 2011 at 04:02 IST
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