The finding of a huge treasure including gold jewelry, crowns, jewels, diamonds and other precious articles costing billions of dollars from the secret cellars of the famed Sri Padmanabha Swami temple in Thiruvananthapuram in the past six days has raised serious questions about the treasure’s ownership rights and its future security.
Preliminary estimates based on the material value alone of the articles found from five of the six secret cellars in the historic temple that dates back to early 18the Century, the treasure might cost more than Rs 65,000 crore. Experts are unable to evaluate the price of the treasure when their antique value is taken into consideration.
With the finding of the amazing treasures in the chests there during the preparation of inventory by a Supreme Court appointed expert panel, the Sri Padmanabha Swamy Temple has become the richest Hindu temple in the country. With treasures reportedly worth Rs 42,000 crore, the Sri Balaji temple at Thirupathi was so far known as the richest Hindu temple.
Among the priceless articles found in the cellars of the Thiruvananthapuram temple were a gold sheaf weighing 500 kilos, an 18-foot gold chain weighing 10.5 kilos, quintals of gold granules shaped into the form of rice seed, several crowns, hundreds of jewels and diamonds including those from Antwerp and rare coins from many countries including Napoleon’s France.
The findings during Saturday’s preparation of inventory included a huge idol of Lord Mahavishnu studded with priceless stones, human forms sculpted in gold, gold bars and straps and several gold rings. The sprawling temple complex’s secret cellars, some of them remaining shut for centuries, were being examined under tight security and safety measures.
The shrine located right in the heart of the State’s capital is one of the most famous temples of Kerala. The magnificent temple is known for its architectural elegance and long rows of granite columns with exquisite engravings have Lord Vishnu reclining on the thousand-hooded serpent, Anantha, as the presiding deity.
The temple is run by a trust floated by the Travancore royal house, to which Lord Padmanabha is the family deity. In the olden days, the temple and its associated property were being controlled by the Ettuveettil Pillamar, aristocrats from eight prominent families till Marthanda Varma, believed to be the architect of modern Travancore, dedicated the kingdom to Lord Padmanabha.
With the revelation that the temple cellars are holding unimaginably huge treasures, controversies have been sparked off over who the real owners of this wealth are. Believers argue that the wealth belongs to the temple and should continue to be kept in the temple itself under foolproof security.
However, some historians say that the treasure was actually public property hidden away by the erstwhile kings. In this sense, they say, the custodian of the treasure should be the ruler of the day – the democratically elected government – and the preservation or utilization of it should be decided in consultation with historians and archeologists and believers.
Atheists and rationalists argue that the treasure could have been “black wealth” amassed by the kings and hidden in the temple for reasons of the peculiar security situation of those times. They also argue that the treasure should be handed over to the Government so that it could use it for the welfare of people, a position harshly opposed by the believers.
At the same time, the revelation of the huge treasure has become a big headache for the Government because of security reasons. Even top officials in the State police are skeptical about the force’s ability to provide fool-proof security to such huge wealth – which has now become a world attraction – kept at one place.
A high-level police meet on Saturday decided to provide three-tier security to the wealth kept in the temple. As per the arrangement, trained commandos of the Special Armed Police would look after security outside the temple complex while the inner security arrangements would be made in consultation with the temple authorities.
However, security experts say that the Kerala Police do not have the means and measures to provide security to such huge wealth. “You need laser-protected safes, digital surveillance and other such modern systems and programmes for providing security to things like this. This is no job for an ordinary state police force,” said a retired official of the Intelligence Bureau.