Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram. | Photo: Commons
Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala | Photo: Commons
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Bengaluru: The Supreme Court Monday ended a nearly decade-old legal dispute, by upholding the rights of the erstwhile royal family of Travancore to manage the affairs of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram.

The temple has been something of an enigma, mainly because of its reputation as one of the richest in the world and the treasures it holds in its vaults.

Historians say the temple dates back to the 8th century but the present structure was built in the 18th century by the then Travancore Maharaja Marthanda Varma.

The temple is built in the unique Chera style of architecture, and its main deity is Lord Vishnu who is found in the Anantha Shayana posture (reclined posture of eternal yoga) on Adishesha or king of all serpents.

It is known to be one of the 108 holy temples associated with Vaishnavism in India.

Since independence, the temple had been controlled by a trust run by the royal family right until 1991, when the last ruler of Travancore, Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, passed away.

Even after the death of the last Travancore ruler in 1991, the state government allowed the management of the temple to be taken over and retained by his younger brother, Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma.

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But in 2011, the Kerala High Court ruled that the family cannot continue to exert its shebait rights. Shebait is a person who serves a Hindu deity and manages the temple.

That ruling has now been overturned. ThePrint explains the temple, its rulers and the treasures that made the Padmanabhaswamy Temple grab headlines.


Also read: Read full text of SC order upholding right of Travancore’s ex-royal family in running Padmanabhaswamy temple


The deity

The deity at the temple represents the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Legend has it that Vilvamangalathu Swamiyar, an ascetic, traveled all over the world in search of Lord Padmanabha.

He had a vision in Thiruvananthapuram that Lord Vishnu reduced himself to 18 feet and took the reclining posture.

The royals told ThePrint that the idol is made of kadasharakara, a composition of herbs, resin and sand.

The temple was first made of wood but later constructed with granite that is seen today. It has 365 pillars, one for each day of the year.

The main idol is made with 12,500 saligram stones transported from the Gandaki river in Nepal. Saligramas are auspicious stones worshipped and venerated as the direct manifestation of Lord Vishnu.

The treasure

There are a total of six vaults located below the temple. It is the opening of these vaults to assess the contents that led to the decade-long legal battle.

In 2017, the Supreme Court appointed a seven-member panel headed by amicus curiae Gopal Subramanium to assess the value of the treasure inside the vaults, including two chambers that had not been opened for over 130 years.

When Vault A was opened by the Gopal Subramanium committee, it unearthed treasure estimated to be roughly around Rs 1,00,000 crore.

Subramanium’s voluminous report to the Supreme Court provided minute details of what was found inside the vaults — bags of gold coins from the Napoleonic, Roman, medieval and British eras. Some bags weighed close to 800 kg.

The committee also found several gold pots and chairs that were possibly used as part of religious ceremonies. A 4ftx3ft solid gold idol of Lord Vishnu studded with diamonds and precious stone and a 28-foot golden throne used to seat the deity were also found.

Apart from this, a gold ceremonial attire that may have been used on the deity, weighing close to 30 kg, was also discovered.

The committee also found sacks of gold artefacts such as coconut shelled ornaments studded with diamonds and rubies, loose precious jewels like diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies along with other objects made of semi-precious metals.


Also read: Top Kerala IAS officer removed for links with woman behind UAE gold ‘smuggling ring’


The Travancore family

In 2011, Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma, the younger brother of the last Travancore king, told this reporter that they belonged to one of the oldest royal families in the country.

Their family tree has been traced to 1870 AD when the Travancore dynasty was started by Ayyan Adigal Thiruvadir.

Varma said the family was intrinsically connected to the deity. “For us, life has been a full surrender to Padmanabha,” Varma had said.

“We enter the temple bare footed. We dust our feet so that not even a grain of sand from the Lord’s home should go back with us,” the royal had said. “Everything in the temple belongs to him, even a grain of sand.”

On 3 January, 1750, the family had dedicated the royal crown to the deity. By this, it declared that the deity was the Maharaja and that they were mere servants of God.


Also read: Why Kerala is planning to allow its famed plantations to grow exotic fruits


The report has been updated to correct the year the royal family dedicated the royal crown to the deity to 1750.

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14 Comments Share Your Views

14 COMMENTS

  1. Ironically the verdict has landed the country back to Maharaja Times , The most question is where did the Varma’s amass this wealth from.. The answer is ofcourse the people they ruled and at times ruthlessly.. So logically the fortune should be used for the warfare of the people , Simple

  2. There, All you concluded is the non sense around the case. Glad there are more intelligent people writing comments..Please get out of your primitive pigeon sized brain interpretations and read, but wait, reading doesn’t get common sense!! sorry you cant be helped!!

  3. Well, This is a surprise things because the heap of pure gold materials were earned by forefathers in 130 years ago. Now some of the politicians are trying to snatch this gold metal with political influence, but we should remember onething that after 130 years by that time generations would never see this kind of gathering of precious metals because nowadays every rich politicians are earning and selling this metals their own purposes and not for future .

  4. Your comment is now under moderation

    SC verdict on Padmanabha Swam

    A division Bench of Kerala High Court wanted a Trust to manage the affair of Padmanabha temple. A democratically elected Trust will be more responsible and accountable for every action. But the Supreme Court has quashed the High Court order and entrusted the temple to the royal family. Royal family itself is a misnomer because on August 15, 1947 Government of India took over the entire administration of the country. But the Supreme Court order has revived the defunct royal family.There is no problem with the present royal family. What about the future? How can we trust the royal family? In Nepal, rivalry in the royal family has witnessed shooting among brothers. It’s also not good to keep the vast quantities of gold inside the temple. Indian history is replete with conquerors looting temple treasures. Now that it is known to the whole world that immense quantities of gold are stored in the temple, it is highly risky to keep them unused. In the event of a war, as happened recently with China, golden treasure will be targeted by the enemy. Gold kept in the in the temple can be used for development activities. Henry VIII seized gold articles kept in churches and used them to build the British navy.

    • There has never been a hindu temple looter although there are numerous christian and muslim looter whose names are written in full glory

  5. Why always target Hindu Temple’s and it’s wealth,why don’t a word against vast land encroach by wakf board and churches, and why silent on unprecedented lootmar of development fund by politican and why no demand for surrender of illegal properties accumulated by congressi leadership and their families

  6. Ridiculous !!In a country where the poor people have no food…no shelter…no water to drink…malnutrition takes away thousands of children’s lives every year…no health service to the poor people…and this mandir and others possessing amassing wealth of crores of rupees ??? Take away all these and use for the country !!!

    • If they decide to do it ,I’m 100 percent sure that it will never get into hands of poor.corruption and loot of the the wealth by politicians will take place.
      This particular royal family is very unique. They have built many hospitals colleges even before independence of world class quality like sree chitra institute of medical sciences for the poor.my mother is alive today because of them. This money will be safe with them . and they will do the development.

      • Exactly ask soros to donte money to poor without making them protest and asking them to properly educate their children and ignite a sense of nationalism into them 😅

    • Yes we can use them but do you know our govt. entertain no right over the treasure( if it has any rights upa govt. had emptied all the treasure long ago) as it was donated over a period of 1000s years to temple for safekeeping and moreover our country is not so poor that it will take donations from religious centers though they can donate them if they wish. Govt. is there to check there is no misuse of the treasure… And also if we properly manage our resources, our govt budgets and also properly plan and stick to the good of the country there will be very less poverty in india… It funny our pol parties still have poverty eradication as their main agenda even after 70 years. If they work together no one can stop india from removing poverty and also giving free money means we are actually cutting their hands as they will take it for granted. I hope this will be enough to make you think again about your immature demand. Vande vishnu🙏🏼

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