Keralas former rulers in court battle over gold, carvings and jewels from vaults of 16th-century temple
Only a handful of people have laid eyes on the treasure of the Padmanabhaswamy temple in the city of Thiruvananthapuram, formerly Trivandrum, capital of Kerala in southern India. Lawyer Ananda Padmanabhan is one of the lucky few. I have seen the items in the vault but I cant say much about it as a court case is still going on, he said.
Its riches are worth billions of rupees, and for the past eight years, Padmanabhan has been fighting to protect them. He believes that more than a billion rupees worth of gold has been taken from the temple and blames the Travancore royal family, the temples original guardians, who still believe that they should have custody of the fortunes of Padmanabhaswamy.
There are 108 Vaishnavite shrines in the world, he says, and this is one of them. Vaishnavites are devotees of the Hindu god Vishnu, and for them the temple is one of the holiest places on earth. There is a rare statue of the Lord Vishnu lying down and it is so big that you have to look at it through three different doors to see the whole thing.
According to Padmanabhan, the temple has, along with six main vaults, several secret storage areas in which gold coins, precious stones and carvings are stashed. For generations, myths about removal of the temple treasures leading to misfortune stifled any efforts to properly examine the vaults.
After independence, India nationalised the maharajas wealth and their ruler status was revoked. Now, the government is seeking to take control of 3,000 tonnes of gold and melt some of it down to sell to jewellers, who face a gold shortage and crippling import prices.
The royal family think this is their private property. But in 1972, the government took away all their benefits. There was an exception that the incumbent rulers from the royal families could continue to have their wealth, but the last ruler died in 1991. So now the royal family has no claim on Padmanabhaswamy, said Padmanabhan.