Padmanabhaswamy Temple treasure
The Padmanabhaswamy Temple treasure is a collection of valuable objects including gold throne, crowns, coins, statues and ornaments, diamonds and other precious stones. It was discovered in some of the subterranean vaults of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram the Indian state of Kerala, when five of its six vaults were opened on 27 June 2011. The vaults were opened on the orders of the Supreme Court of India, which was hearing a private petition seeking transparency in the running of the temple. The discovery of the treasure attracted widespread national and international media attention as it is considered to be the largest collection of items of gold and precious stones in the recorded history of the world.
The temple management authorities were aware of the existence of six vaults. They are situated very close to the sanctum-sanctorum of the temple on its western side. For documentation purposes, these vaults have been designated as vaults A, B, C, D, E and F. Subsequently, two more further subterranean vaults have been discovered since, and they have been designated as Vault G and Vault H.
- Vault B has not been opened presumably for centuries. The Supreme Court appointed committee members opened the metal-grille door to Vault B and discovered a sturdy wooden door just behind it. They opened this door as well, and encountered a third door made of iron, which was jammed shut. The observers considered forcing their way in, but deemed this improper; they decided to hire a locksmith. Then in mid-July, before the locksmith came, the royal family got an injunction from the Supreme Court against opening vault B.
- Vaults G and H also remain closed for centuries believably as of May 2016.
- Four of the vaults, namely those designated as C, D, E, and F, are in the custody of the temple priests. Over recent years, they have been opened at least eight times every year and some of the contents stored in them are routinely taken out for use on special ceremonial occasions such as temple festivals, and are deposited back after use.
- Following the orders of the Supreme Court of India, a court-appointed committee opened the vaults on 30 June 2011 and entered vault A. They unlocked an iron grille and a heavy wooden door, then removed a granite slab from the floor. Beneath, a few steps led to a dark room which stored the treasure. The various items found scattered everywhere were not arranged systematically. There were baskets, earthen pots, copper pots, all containing valuable objects.
Inventory of the treasure
The Supreme Court of India had ordered an amicus curiae appointed by it to prepare an inventory of the treasure. Full details of the inventory have not been revealed. However, newspaper reports gave an indication of some of the possible contents of the vaults. About 40 groups of objects were retrieved from Vault E and Vault F. Another 1469 groups of objects found in Vault C and 617 in Vault D. Over 1.02 lakh (102,000) groups of objects (referred to as articles collectively) were recovered from Vault A alone.
According to confirmed news reports some of the items found include:
- A 4-foot (1.2 m) high and 3-foot (0.91 m) wide solid pure-golden idol of Mahavishnu studded with diamonds and other fully precious stones.
- A solid pure-golden throne, studded with hundreds of diamonds and precious stones, meant for the 18-foot (5.5 m) idol of deity
- Ceremonial attire for adorning the deity in the form of 16-part gold anki weighing almost 30 kilograms (66 lb)
- An 18-foot (5.5 m) long pure-gold chain among thousands of pure-gold chains
- A pure-gold sheaf weighing 500 kilograms (1,100 lb)
- A 36-kilogram (79 lb) golden veil
- 1200 'Sarappalli' pure-gold coin-chains encrusted with precious stones weighing between 3.5 kg and 10.5 kg
- Several sacks filled with golden artifacts, necklaces, diadems, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, gemstones, and objects made of other precious metals
- Gold coconut shells studded with rubies and emeralds
- Several 18th-century Napoleonic-era coins
- Hundreds of thousands of gold coins of the Roman Empire
- An 800-kilogram (1,800 lb) hoard of gold coins dating to around 200 BC
- According to varying reports, at least three if not many more, solid gold crowns all studded with diamonds and other precious stones
- Hundreds of pure gold chairs
- Thousands of gold pots
- A 600-kg cache of gold coins from the medieval period
While the above list is on the basis of reports describing the July 2011 opening (and later) of Vaults A, C, D, E and F, a 1930s report from The Hindu mentions a granary-sized structure (within either Vault C or Vault D or Vault E or Vault F) almost filled with mostly gold and some silver coins.A. Srivathsan (June 6, 2013). "When the vault was opened in 1931". The Hindu. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
Source of the treasure
The valuables are believed to have been accumulated in the temple over several thousands of years, having been donated to the Deity, and subsequently stored in the Temple, by various Dynasties, such as the Cheras, the Pandyas, the Travancore Royal Family, the Kolathiris, the Pallavas, the Cholas and many other Kings in the recorded history of both South India and beyond, and from the rulers and traders of Mesopotamia, Jerusalem, Greece, Rome, and later from the various colonial powers from Europe, and other countries. Most scholars believe that this was accumulated over thousands of years, given the mention of the Deity and the Temple in several extant Hindu Texts, the Sangam Tamil literature (500 BC to 300 AD wherein it was referred to as the "Golden Temple" on account of its then unimaginable wealth), and the treasures consist of countless artifacts dating back to the Chera, Pandya, and Greek and Roman epochs. The ancient late-Tamil-Sangam epic Silappatikaram (circa 100 AD to 300 AD) speaks of the then Chera King Cenkuttuvan receiving gifts of gold and precious stones from a certain 'Golden Temple' (Arituyil-Amardon) which is believed to be the Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
Gold had been mined as well as panned from rivers in Thiruvananthapuram, Kannur, Wayanad, Mallappuram, Palakkad and Kollam districts for thousands of years. The Malabar region (as a part of the "Tamilakam" region of recorded history) had several centers of trade and commerce since the Sumerian Period ranging from Vizhinjam in the South to Mangalore in the North. Also, at times like the invasion by Tipu Sultan, the other royal families sharing common origins with the Thiruvithamkur Royal Family, like the Kolathiris (a branch of the Thiruvithamkur Royal Family - both originating in the Thiruvananthapuram area), in the then Kerala and extreme Southern-region, took refuge in Thiruvananthapuram, and stored their temple-wealth for safekeeping in the Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Also, much of the treasures housed in the much larger and as-yet-unopened vaults, as well as in the much smaller cellars that have been opened, date back to long before the institution of the so-called Travancore Kingdom, e.g. the 800-kg hoard of gold coins from 200 B.C that was mentioned by Vinod Rai. Noted archaeologist and historian R. Nagaswamy has also stated that several records exist in Kerala, of offerings made to the Deity, from several parts of Kerala. During the reign of Maharani Gowri Lakshmi Bayi, hundreds of temples that were mismanaged in the Kerala region, were brought under the Government. The excess ornaments in these temples were also transferred to the Vaults of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Instead the funds of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple were utilised for the daily upkeep of these temples. From 1766 until 1792, Travancore also provided refuge to around a dozen other Hindu rulers who had fled their own princely states along the Malabar Coast, due to fears of possible military defeat and forced conversion to Islam by Tipu Sultan. They came with whatever valuables they had in their temples and donated them to Lord Padmanabha. Many of these rulers, and their extended family members, also left their wealth with Lord Padmanabha when they finally returned home following Tipu Sultan's military defeat by British forces in 1792.
There are over 3000 surviving bundles of 'Cadjan' leaves (records) in Archaic Malayalam and Old Tamil, each bundle consisting of a hundred-thousand leaves, which adhere to donations of gold and precious stones made exclusively to the temple over the millennia. Most of these are yet to have been studied and very few have even been glanced at yet. As these pertain exclusively to the donations made over millennia they would throw a lot of light on the story of the treasure. Lastly, it has to be remembered that in the Travancore Kingdom, a distinction was always made between the Government (or State) Treasury (Karuvoolam), the Royal Family Treasury (Chellam), and the Temple Treasury (Thiruvara Bhandaram or Sri Bhandaram).
- Report of Amicus Curiae dated 29 October 2012 submitted in the Supreme Court of India: Report of Amicus Curiae
- A report on the opening of the vaults in 1931: A. Srivathsan (June 6, 2013). "When the vault was opened in 1931". The Hindu. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
- K. N. Ganesh (January 2013). "To Whom Does Temple Wealth Belong? A Historical Essay on Landed Property in Travancore". Review of Agrarian Studies. 3 (1). Retrieved 27 November 2015.
- "Gold treasure at India temple could be the largest in the world". COMMODITYONLINE.
- "India to evaluate world's largest gold treasure soon". Archived from the original on 2015-04-14.
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- R. Krishnakumar (16 July 2011). "Treasures of history". Frontline. 28 (15). Retrieved 27 November 2015.
- Amy Kazmin (September 19, 2014). "The battle for custodianship of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple". Financial Times. Retrieved 26 November 2015.
- Jake Halpern (April 30, 2012). "The secret of the temple". The New Yorker. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
- "'Treasure belongs to the temple and nobody else'". Rediff. 11 July 2011.
- http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl2815/stories/20110729281512500.htm%7Ctitle=Treasures of history
- Beena Sarasa. "Tales that the fabulous collection in the vaults tell". The Hindu.
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- "Temple Treasure: Do gods need gold?". commodityonline.com/.
- Aiyangar, Sakkottai Krishnaswami (1940-01-01). Seran Vanji: Vanji, the Capital of the Cheras. Superintendent, Cochin Government Press. p. 29.
- Induchudan, V. T. (1969-01-01). The Secret Chamber: A Historical, Anthropological & Philosophical Study of the Kodungallur Temple. Cochin Devaswom Board. p. 47.
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- T. S. Subramanian (August 1, 2011). "The provenance of the temple treasure". The Hindu. Retrieved 27 November 2015.