The News Minute| Thiruvananthapuram/New Delhi| August 14, 2014 Beyond myths, symbols and Indian Jones/Ali Baba’s cave, the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala contains wealth that is beyond the pale of imagination, former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Vinod Rai said today. While myths and theories about malediction hitting families that open the vaults especially vault B abound, Rai said records show that the vault was opened seven times in the presence of the Maharaja between 1998 and 2005. The CAG’s remit was to audit the inventory, not enter the vaults. Justice C S Rajan who was part of the first committee constituted by the Supreme Court to put a value on the temple's treasure recently told Manorama that they were unable to open Vault B. He maintains that Vault B was last opened 129 years ago in 1885. He said that only the first two doors of the Vault B, and chambers which stored vessels have been explored. Justice Rajan says the third door behind which is the chamber with jewelery and other treasures has not been opened since 1885. According to him, the committee members tried to open the third door, but they could not. Media reports suggest that the vault has not been opened for centuries and many believe that it is the abode of snakes including the Sesh Nag which protects the deity. There have also been statements saying vault B has three doors and all attempts to break open the clamps on the third door including with sophisticated technology has proved futile. How much of this is in the realm of fear and how much is based on technology is not known. Ornaments for the presiding deity – Mahavishnu in the reclining position with the multi-hooded nag as protection – jewelry for members of the royal family of Travancore and patrangal or cooking utensils and prayer utensils fill the seven vaults according to the inventory which was audited by Rai. “There is a wooden box with 800 kilograms of gold coins supposedly from 2 B.C with each coin estimated at INR 2.75 crores,” said Rai, a Kerala-cadre officer who is fluent in Malayalam and can read and write the language. There’s also a pure gold four feet by three feet statue of Mahavishnu (vigraham), in addition to hundreds of bejeweled pieces of art and antiques making the temple the richest in India. From padlocks wrapped with cloth and sealed with ordinary seals, the discovery of what the innards of the temple holds has resulted in a yearly bill of INR 37 crores for the exchequer. The treasure belongs to the royal family and the temple is their personal deity. Records also show that gold was removed and returned to the vaults, sometimes after purification. While it remains a mystery how the royal family accumulated such wealth, Rai says possibility could be that with Tipu Sultan attacking from the north, the Zamorins – rulers – of Calicut and Cochin had sent their valuables for safe-keep in the temple. Kerala was also on the trading route between the east and the west which might explain the coins from 2 B.C. What next? The predominant view seems to be one of displaying the treasures in the form a museum for the world to see and admire. The News Minute (TNM) has learnt that the royal family as well as the government of Kerala is favourably inclined to this idea and a spot within the temples premises may have been identified keeping security in mind, but more importantly the tradition in Kerala to disallow non-Hindus from entering Hindu temples. The Salar Jang Museum in Hyderabad is an example.
The News Minute newsletter