Bengaluru: After a nine-year court battle, the erstwhile royal family of Travancore — who call themselves “humble custodians” of the world famous Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple — can finally heave a sigh of relief.
This is because the Supreme Court Monday upheld the rights of the family to run the administration of one of the world’s richest temples. The family called the decision “not a victory”, but a blessing from Lord Padmanabha.
The long-drawn court battle over the administration of the temple was pending in the top court over charges of financial irregularities.
One of the vaults (Vault B) of the temple, located in Thiruvananthapuram, is estimated to have treasures worth Rs 1,00,000 crore, according to a document submitted by the Kerala government in the Kerala High Court. There are six vaults in the temple.
In an exclusive interaction with ThePrint, Adithya Varma, a member of the former royal family, said the family fought tooth and nail to uphold the tradition and devotion of the people who revered lord Padmanabhaswamy.
“These nine years has been a big fight for us… it drained us emotionally, but we derived strength from Lord Padmanabha. He is always there to take care of us and we will continue to serve as Padmanabha daasas (servants of lord Padmanabhaswamy),” Varma told ThePrint.
Gowri Parvathi Bayi, a senior member of the family, said in a video message to the media: “We pray for his continued benevolence on all humanity to keep us all safe and well. Thank you all who stood by us in these difficult years. God bless you.”
‘Faith forbids the opening of the B Vault’
Varma told ThePrint: “We are relieved that the court did not direct the opening of the ‘Kallara’ or Vault B.”
“Our faith forbids the opening of the B Vault. No one has attempted to open it in the past as it is considered against the temple tradition. The vault is a symbol of the sanctity of the temple and if opened, that will be violated,” Varma said.
“We will wait for the entire judgment copy to come to us before we decide on setting up a new committee for the administration of the temple,” he added.
The top court ordered that the district judge of Thiruvananthapuram will head an administrative committee to manage the affairs of the temple until a committee is constituted by the family.
The fight between Kerala government and the former royal family began after a petition was filed by retired IPS officer T.P. Sundararajan in 2009.
The retired officer alleged misappropriation of treasures at the temple vaults. In 2011, the Kerala High Court had ordered the state government to take over the temple, its assets and management.
The same year, during the legal battle, the family was stripped off its hold over the temple management. Following this, it moved the SC and the apex court directed in 2017 that all the valuables in the temple be inventoried, which means documentation of the treasures.
Opening of Vault A
There were several theories and rumours surrounding the vaults. One of them was if the vaults were opened, it would submerge the city. There were also theories that snakes guarded the Vault B and if it is opened, it would be ominous.
Varma, however, said: “All these are ridiculous rumours.”
He added: “We object to the opening of Vault B as there is a religious procedure associated with it. Only if the Thanthri (chief priest) instructs us to do so, it could be done.”
In 2017, Vault A was opened in the presence of the Supreme Court-appointed amicus curiae Gopal Subramanium. Antique coins weighing over 600 kg, crowns, necklaces and precious stones were found in it. Over 2 lakh items, some of which with precious jewels, from the vault were inventoried.
In 2018, a status report was filed by then Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai before the Supreme Court on the assets of the temple. In his report, he said 769 pots of gold were missing from the temple’s Vault A.
He also mentioned that there had been no transparency in auditing of the temple’s account books and several documents related to sale of temple land were also missing.
On such allegations, Varma categorically said there has been no mismanagement and all their records are clear.
“Everything is documented. We would not dare to even think of misusing what belongs to the lord,” he said.
Varma also said they will soon decide on allocating the responsibilities of handling the temple affairs.
“In our petition, we had requested two committees, one to oversee the temple activities and the other to administer the day-to-day working of the temple. These committees will be set up after consulting our lawyers,” Varma added.