Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram is considered to be the richest temple in the world.

Will Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple’s vault B be opened? Image by Sreekesh Raveendran Nair
news Law Sunday, July 12, 2020 - 13:22

Will the mysterious Vault B of the world’s richest temple, Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram, be opened? 

Vault B is one of the six vaults in the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple. While five vaults have been opened and its contents have been recorded by a court-appointed team, Vault B was not opened. The Travancore royal family, which used to manage the temple, claims this particular vault has a mystical curse over it and opening it would be nothing short of inviting a disaster to the state.

While the decision to open the vault is a corollary, the case in the Supreme Court mainly pertains to the administrative rights of the royal family over the temple. The apex court will decide if the ownership, control and management lie with the erstwhile royal family of Travancore, or should a Devaswom board (mostly controlled by the Kerala government) should be formed.

The Supreme Court will pronounce a verdict in the case on Monday. But here are the three things to know about the vault, the myths associated with it and the case.

The six vaults in the temple

The five vaults in the temple were opened from 2011 onwards and an expert committee has recorded the inventory. A huge pile of treasure was found locked away in the five vaults: gold, silver, diamonds and other precious stones, which were cast into idols, coins, ornaments and vessels, among others.

Vault B is the final vault that has not been opened yet. The royal family claimed that only the anterooms of the vault were opened, and not the main chamber as there was a mystical curse associated with it.

However, both Gopal Subramaniam, the Supreme Court-appointed amicus curiae, and Vinod Rai, Comptroller and Auditor General, had told the court that the vault had been opened once in 1990 and twice in 2002.

While the contents locked away in this vault is not known yet, historians contend that it contains the massive treasures that the temple collected during the rule of the Travancore king.

Read: Why Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple’s mysterious Vault B should be opened: Expert explains

Columnist Malayinkil Gopalakrishnan, who is well-versed with the Travancore history, had earlier said that much of the treasures were part of the offerings, penalties or donations from kings of Travancore and other states. He also pointed out that King Marthandavarma of Travancore, who had direct control over the temple, had amassed huge wealth during his conquests. 

As directed by the Supreme Court, the temple is currently managed by a committee headed by the district judge and executive officer, who is managing the temple affairs. 

While Vinod Rai pointed to the irregularities in the purity and weight of gold and silver valuables of the temple, Gopalakrishnan said that the contents of Vault B should be catalogued to prevent theft and loss of any assets.

How the case reached courts

When the erstwhile Princely States of Travancore and Cochin were merged in 1949, the control and management of all temples under it went to the Travancore and Cochin Devaswom Boards. These boards are socio-religious trusts in Kerala, which are managed by the state government or community-nominated members to manage the temples and ensure its smooth functioning.

However, under the Agreement of Accession signed between the two Princely States, the administration of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple was "vested in trust" in the last ruler of Travancore, Sree Chithira Thirunal. When the last ruler passed away in 1991, his brother, Utradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma became the custodian of this temple.

In 2007, he claimed that the treasures of the Padmanabhaswamy temple are the family properties of the royal family. Several devotees, including a Supreme Court lawyer, objected to the claim and filed multiple suits, challenging the last ruler’s brother’s authority to run the temple. In one of the cases, a lower court granted an injunction against the opening of treasure rooms — also called Kallaras in Malayalam — of the temple.

In 2010, the Kerala High Court ordered that a board be constituted to manage the temple. The royal family challenged this order and approached the Supreme Court in 2011. This case has reportedly has had 25 sittings so far.

Myths and beliefs attached to Vault B

The SC’s first hearing in the case was to assess the wealth of the temple, based on the writ petition filed by an advocate TP Sunder Rajan. However, in 2011, Sunder passed away and many attributed the sudden death to the wrath of Padmanabhaswamy or Vishnu, the main deity of the temple.

There are several other mythical theories associated with this vault, including the wrath of the ocean and snakes, which assume religious significance for many.

Many believe the vault is somehow connected to the Arabian Sea and that opening it will flood the entire state. The snake theory comes from the engravings in the vault’s door; it resembles a cobra. Hence, some believe that the vault is protected by lord Vishnu, considered to be the ‘king of nagas’ (snakes), and that it can be opened only sadhus by chanting a hymn. Although, experts and devotees have pointed out that this system does not exist anymore.

Many tantrics and vastu experts have dissuaded the expert committee from opening the vault, which is believed to be below the head of the deity, using gas cutters or without the prescribed chants seeking permission from the deity. 

Also read: Myths, beliefs and superstitions about Vault B of Padmanabha Swamy temple


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