Thursday, July 7, 2011

Travancore Treasure- Should we be killing the Golden Goose?

When British colonists got the possession of two of the most prestigious symbols of India’s rich heritage, namely, Koh-I-Noor and Peacock Throne, they did not decide to encash it and use the proceedings for the welfare of their people. Instead, they preserved both these invaluable assets in safe custody, allowing people to have a peek into the history; the history of not just India but of the whole world!

We Indians generally do not believe in such niceties or civilities. Just look around our numerous heritage sites and you will know this truth. We neither care for history nor for future, unless either of them can be twisted to gain some more votes or notes.

I was not, therefore, surprised to hear all those suggestions on how to deal with the unbelievable quantum of priceless artefacts and historical objects that were unearthed from the underground chambers of Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple, in Trivandrum, Kerala. Most of the discussions are happening around the questions as to who should get the right to own and spend these assets and for what all purposes?

Some Facts

Let us look at some historical facts. Unlike other temples, the deity of Sri Padmanabha Temple (Maha Vishnu in the Anantashayanam posture) was not a mere religious object of worship but also had a secular function of being the King of the erstwhile Kingdom of Travancore. One of the Kings, Marthanda Varma, submitted the kingdom to the Deity, Sri Padmanabhan, and decided to rule the kingdom in the capacity of only a servant of Sri Padmanabhan. The subsequent kings and the members of royal family, till date, continued with the same tradition and took pride in protecting the wealth of the temple and it’s Deity.

The entire wealth of the Kingdom therefore belonged to Sri Padmanabha (though apparently the treasury and temple wealth were separately maintained). The geographic location of the Kingdom ensured the prosperity of it and the wealth being accumulated in the temple went up over the time.

The royal family, well respected in southern parts of Kerala for their devotion and honesty, did not appropriate any assets of the temple even after they had to merge their Kingdom into the Indian Union. They continued to be members of the Trust, governing the temple.

According to some of the historians like MGS Narayanan, the wealth of the temple is well documented and the documents are preserved even today. Probably, with the intention of protecting the wealth, nobody in the knowledge, ever gave out the details to the public.

It was some petty disputes related to the administration of Temple that led to the legal battles, now pending before the Supreme Court of India. It was in pursuance to this litigation that the Supreme Court ordered the cataloguing of assets in the secret chambers. However, the extend of the contents of the chambers has surprised all concerned, even though one more chamber remains to be opened.

Some Law

Under the Indian laws, a Deity of Temple is a juristic person perfectly capable of holding property in its name and suing others/ being sued by others. Therefore, in my opinion, it is settled law that the assets being catalogued as per Apex Court orders are nothing but the property of Deity of Sri Padmanabha Temple. Since the records were available and it was common knowledge that the assets were stored in the chambers (though the value or quantum was not in the public domain), it cannot be legally termed as a treasure trove, falling under the Indian Treasure Trove Act, 1878. At least one of the vaults was opened and catalogued in the year of 1931 as per a report in The Hindu (via @bijugovind).

It is also settled law that the wealth of a Deity/ Hindu Temple cannot be utilised for any public purpose by the Government. The use of such wealth can only be undertaken by the Trustees or the guardian of the Deity (Guardian of God, bit ironic, isn’t it?), on behalf of the Deity, that too for the legitimate purposes related to temple administration, including welfare of the pilgrims. As per existing law, the wealth of a Temple cannot be utilised for any secular or public purposes.

Some Perspectives

It is not the facts or law that often directs the public discourse. So, we have no choice but to look at some of the main perspectives as well. There are Atheists on the one end of the spectrum demanding that the wealth be taken over by Government and used for public welfare. There are Hindu religious leaders (in Kerala, there are no Hindu religious leaders- only caste satraps like NSS and SNDP or right wing fringe groups like Hindu Munnani!) warning the Government against touching the wealth of the Temple. The Royal Family has already approached Supreme Court against further disclosures, though their stand on the whole issue is not yet very clear as they have deliberately chosen to keep the silence.

Government of Kerala had already declared that the wealth will remain with the Temple thereby settling the apprehensions being instigated in the minds of people, by some or other interested groups.

Efforts are also on, to prove how the wealth of Christian and Muslim places of worship are spared while Hindu temples are being plundered by the government. Anti-Hindu conspiracy theories are aplenty.

The Missing Links

In this cacophony of “who owns and who can use” cries, we are missing an important aspect of the whole issue. We all want to know how much money can be generated by disposing off the gold and precious metals. We are keen to know if Sri Padmanabbha Swamy Temple has become the richest place of worship and how much is the market value of the findings.

But no one is talking about the importance of this true treasure, in terms of its historic and cultural value! From what little we can learn from the Media, many of the articles are as valuable as Koh-I-noor or Peacock Throne, in terms of their intrinsic value.

When we try to limit the claim to Hindus alone, we are forgetting the fact that Sri Padmanabhan was the King for all, irrespective of their religion. His subjects included Hindus, Christians as well as Muslims!

When we are demanding that we must utilise this wealth to fund the public debt of Kerala so that Kerala can make a clean start (?!) in its development, we are forgetting that this wealth was not created by us. This was a collection through the efforts of many generations before us. We are not the owners of this wealth. At best, we are its custodians. It belongs to future generations of this world, as much as it belongs to us.

The Suggestion

In the light of the above, my suggestion would be to forget the monetary value of these objects. There is something beyond the money too, in this world!

The intrinsic value of these objects is beyond measuring; they will be priceless for the generations to come. Let us resolve to preserve it for the future as our ancestors preserved it for us. That is the only way we can reciprocate the greatness of the Royal Family of Travancore who did not fall prey to any temptations, unlike scores of other rulers of their age. Let us create a world-class museum under the Temple itself. Government can be the facilitator in the process of setting it up, but the Sri Padmanabhan can continue to own it and the revenue can augment the income of Temple.

Ah... I know that we are too materialistic for such idealistic talks. For that matter, even our governments are. So let us talk some economics too. With the findings, the temple has already become world famous. If and when we set up the museum, probably world’s richest one, the fame and importance of the Temple will only grow, attracting many more pilgrims and tourists. The Temple revenue will grow further. The tourism sector of the State of Kerala, God’s Own Country, will also grow manifold, with tourists from all over the world getting attracted by the great Museum. It is still money for the Temple and for the State, for all the time to come.

Let us not kill the Goose that can lay golden eggs. Lets us limit our greed to the eggs that she is sure to lay, forever!


  1. Very well written article.. and its a +1 to your suggestion....Very much support you..there are things beyond money in this world! When I started reading this article I was praying this be not another piece of writing on how to use this treasure, how to uplift the poor and stuffs like that! Here's totally my view on the treasures!!

  2. I fully agree that the treasure should be displayed in a museum, which should be world class and and should attract tourist from all over the globe. The temple needs to shelve their non hindu not welcome tag

  3. I got to know about many historical facts about Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple through this blog of yours.. and thanks for it.. It was truly very highlighting as I was a bit less aware of the history of this temple..
    However, such a museum like the one.. Louvre in Paris or the British Museum in London to be built here in Kerala will not be an easy a task..It has to be scientifically designed a museum equipped with modern security arrangements.. If these standards are met by our Government or the Archeological Deptt.. it would definately make Thiruvananthapuram the most sought-after place for domestic and foreign tourists, historians from all over the world. It will be matter of great Pride And Honour for India

    Having said that, in a country like India where a substantial number of people live below povery line, doesnt it make sense to spare part of the riches for social uplift ? We should take a cue from European countries where works of art and artefacts and antiques are allowed for public auction. The funds so generated are used for charitable purposes.. and they are ahead of us on many development issues..
    People should realise that excess wealth should be used to serve the needy persons.

    True to your having supported for a Great Museum to be set up.. but I am in support for helping the needy ppl of Kerala with some amount from this Treasure Trove for their upliftment..just spare a thought for these people who go empty stomach for many days together..unable to make both ends meet.. Some welfare scheme for such needy persons..A speciality hospital in Lord Padmanabha's name and Trust.. Will be much much benefitial.. Imagine the level of happiness and blessings such ppl in distress will give when their agonies are solved by such charitable organizations ..and that itself will be enough for a country to prosper by Leaps and Bounds..

    And as it is said "To each his own" the views I mean... Museum and Charity .. Let both be done..What Say YOu ?

  4. I totally agree with my friend. it is an eye opener for all we indians, this is far too important than any individual or any religion put together. This is india guys and i am very proud to be an indian, though i live in usa. I love both my countries, my birth country and my adopted one. I am very proud of what my mother country stands for and where we come from. nothind can compare to our strong heritage. After living here for 28 years in usa still our culture and our values are greater than any other country, if our politicians can understand this. where did we go wrong i dont understand ? the golden era of Mahatma days are over, now we live with rogues and goodas rule my mother country. I shed tears sometimes seeing our plight of our country. I hope some clean politicians takes over India.god bless India and usa. Jai hind.

  5. Firstly, I find it difficult to digest the opening that the British has taken our Koh-I-Noor and Pea-cock throne with good intention of preserving it for posterity. Shit they did. Can't it be preserved in India ? For them it was a spoils of war, a loot. Though the smaller treasures might have been shared among themselves, they dare not dispose the above two bigger pieces of the loot. They had no choice but to present it to their Chief ie., Queen or King.

    SreePadmanabha is not a King or sybolic king but a diety like the diety of Thirupathy and similar temples. Its wealth is managed by a Trust. Srepadmanabhaswamy temple is not different from these temples in every terms legally.

    Property of Srepadmanabha belong to the temple. Its affairs will be managed by trustee. Other religions of non-believers cannot have right over this wealth of those who they consider as kafirs nor they can be its benefactor unless the Trust give any part of it in charity.

    This is a temple property managed by the Trust and will be disposed off as decided by the Trust from time to time. In case someone is too keen to give it a universal effect, let us amend our constitution making fresh provisions governing wealth in the control of all such Churches and Waqft Boards treating them all at par governed by same rule. Until such a provisions is introduced in our Constitution please leave Sreepadmanabhya and his wealth to him. If any directions as to the way it is to be kept or controlled is given such directions should be made applicable to the wealth and land holdings of all religious institutions of all religions including Churches and Waqft Board

    This artile is seen examined on legal angle also sufficiently clear. Forget about the plan to make Sripadmanabha the King of whole world as a pretext to share his wealth.