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Padmanabha Swamy Temple Verdict and the Curious Case of Vault B

Here's all you need to know about the recent SC verdict on the Thiruvananthapuram temple and the mystery of vault B.

Published
Explainers
4 min read
Incidentally, the SC did not mention anything on opening mysterious Vault B of Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple. 
i
Snapshot

The Supreme Court verdict of 13 July in the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple case handed back control to its erstwhile trustees, the descendants of the Travancore-Cochin royal family.

The temple situated in Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala is one of the most important Vaishnava temples. With the recent opening of its vaults, the temple has been acknowledged as the world’s richest place of worship in the world.

Situated in an eight-acre plot in the heart of city, the temple has an 18-feet idol of Padmanabha in a reclining pose. The main temple, its towers, and the fortress-like walls are built in granite.

Here is all you need to know about the controversy around the temple and the case of the mysterious Vault B.

Padmanabha Swamy Temple Verdict and the Curious Case of Vault B

  1. 1. What Does the Verdict Say?

    The verdict reversed the 2011 Kerala High Court decision, which had said that the Travancore royal family’s rights over the temple ceased with the death of the last ruler of Travancore, Sree Chithira Thirunal, in 1991.

    After his demise, the last ruler’s brother, Utradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma, became the temple’s custodian. When Varma claimed that the treasures of the temple are the properties of the royal family, many devotees objected to and challenged his authority to run the temple in many lower courts.

    The apex court had ruled that ‘death will not affect the rights of shebaitship of the family over the deity and they will survive as per custom’. This put an end to the legal battle between the members of the royal family and the government.

    The royal family had approached the top court after the Kerala High Court order directed the state government to take control of the temple’s management and its assets.

    Expand
  2. 2. What Did Opening of the Vaults Reveal?

    Except for one, all the five vaults were opened in July-August 2011 as per the Supreme Court order which revealed massive amounts of gold, diamonds, silver and other precious stones in the form of ornaments, idols, coins from different countries, and artefacts that had been stored for centuries. The unofficial estimate has been over Rs 1 lakh crore, which is excluding the value of the antiques.

    Veteran journalist and columnist Malayinkil Gopalakrishnan, in his website dutchinkerala.com, writes that there are thousands of Mathilakam documents written on palm leaves in the custody of the State Archives that are an invaluable treasure for students of history.

    The scriptures recovered from the temple and history books reveal a lot about the socio-political affairs and the construction of the temple. However, there is no written document on the valuables in the vaults.

    Historians believe the wealth was gathered over the years with offerings, penalties and donations from kings of Travancore and other states.

    Expand
  3. 3. What Do We Know About the Mysterious Vault B?

    The Travancore Royal Family that manages the assets says opening the vault will unleash god’s wrath. 
    The Travancore Royal Family that manages the assets says opening the vault will unleash god’s wrath. 
    (Photo Courtesy: The News Minute)

    The question that continues to rage in Kerala : Will the mysterious Vault B in the temple be opened?

    Speculations have been rife about the contents of the Vault B as there are no historical or contemporary documents.

    According to the local legends, opening of these vaults could invite wrath of the gods. The Travancore royal family has encouraged this belief.

    Many experts have pointed out that it is important that the vault be opened and its contents properly catalogued to prevent theft.

    Incidentally, the Supreme Court did not mention anything on opening Vault B. However, the bench, led by Justice UU Lalit, said that the interim expert committee will continue to manage the temple’s affairs, until the royal family forms a final committee. This committee will be temporarily headed by a Thiruvananthapuram district judge.

    Back in 2014, the Supreme Court had deferred the opening of this vault until the enumeration of other vaults was completed by the committee.

    Expand
  4. 4. The Travancore Royal Family

    Members of the Travancore Royal family seen standing in the back.
    Members of the Travancore Royal family seen standing in the back.
    (Photo Courtesy: The News Minute)

    Unlike other temples in Kerala, Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple and its assets were managed by a trust controlled by the Travancore Royal Family.

    The temple contains six vaults built under the sanctum sanctorum.

    In 2014, the Supreme Court entrusted the administration of the temple to a five-member committee and directed former Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai to undertake the audit of the temple properties, assets and accounts.

    Expand
  5. 5. Irregularities Detected

    Rai had pointed out irregularities in the purity and weightage of the temple’s valuables.

    A comprehensive audit report which is said to be 1,000 pages bound in two volumes and covers a period of 2004-2014, pointed out discrepancies and a lack of transparency in the auditing process of the temple wealth.

    According to a special audit report that was submitted by a committee headed by Vinod Rai, 769 pots of gold worth Rs 186 crore and sale deeds of 2.11 acres of land that were sold in 1970 are missing, while around 263 kilos of gold are deemed lost in purification procedures from the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple.

    Rai had pointed out an ‘abnormal’ increase in temple expenditure.

    He recommended the constitution of an administrative committee comprising a retired IAS officer, a representative each from the Travancore royal family and the Devaswom Board, the tantri (chief priest) of the temple, two prominent devotee-citizens and an executive officer appointed by the Kerala government with a fixed tenure of three years.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What Does the Verdict Say?

The verdict reversed the 2011 Kerala High Court decision, which had said that the Travancore royal family’s rights over the temple ceased with the death of the last ruler of Travancore, Sree Chithira Thirunal, in 1991.

After his demise, the last ruler’s brother, Utradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma, became the temple’s custodian. When Varma claimed that the treasures of the temple are the properties of the royal family, many devotees objected to and challenged his authority to run the temple in many lower courts.

The apex court had ruled that ‘death will not affect the rights of shebaitship of the family over the deity and they will survive as per custom’. This put an end to the legal battle between the members of the royal family and the government.

The royal family had approached the top court after the Kerala High Court order directed the state government to take control of the temple’s management and its assets.

What Did Opening of the Vaults Reveal?

Except for one, all the five vaults were opened in July-August 2011 as per the Supreme Court order which revealed massive amounts of gold, diamonds, silver and other precious stones in the form of ornaments, idols, coins from different countries, and artefacts that had been stored for centuries. The unofficial estimate has been over Rs 1 lakh crore, which is excluding the value of the antiques.

Veteran journalist and columnist Malayinkil Gopalakrishnan, in his website dutchinkerala.com, writes that there are thousands of Mathilakam documents written on palm leaves in the custody of the State Archives that are an invaluable treasure for students of history.

The scriptures recovered from the temple and history books reveal a lot about the socio-political affairs and the construction of the temple. However, there is no written document on the valuables in the vaults.

Historians believe the wealth was gathered over the years with offerings, penalties and donations from kings of Travancore and other states.

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What Do We Know About the Mysterious Vault B?

The Travancore Royal Family that manages the assets says opening the vault will unleash god’s wrath. 
The Travancore Royal Family that manages the assets says opening the vault will unleash god’s wrath. 
(Photo Courtesy: The News Minute)

The question that continues to rage in Kerala : Will the mysterious Vault B in the temple be opened?

Speculations have been rife about the contents of the Vault B as there are no historical or contemporary documents.

According to the local legends, opening of these vaults could invite wrath of the gods. The Travancore royal family has encouraged this belief.

Many experts have pointed out that it is important that the vault be opened and its contents properly catalogued to prevent theft.

Incidentally, the Supreme Court did not mention anything on opening Vault B. However, the bench, led by Justice UU Lalit, said that the interim expert committee will continue to manage the temple’s affairs, until the royal family forms a final committee. This committee will be temporarily headed by a Thiruvananthapuram district judge.

Back in 2014, the Supreme Court had deferred the opening of this vault until the enumeration of other vaults was completed by the committee.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Travancore Royal Family

Members of the Travancore Royal family seen standing in the back.
Members of the Travancore Royal family seen standing in the back.
(Photo Courtesy: The News Minute)

Unlike other temples in Kerala, Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple and its assets were managed by a trust controlled by the Travancore Royal Family.

The temple contains six vaults built under the sanctum sanctorum.

In 2014, the Supreme Court entrusted the administration of the temple to a five-member committee and directed former Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai to undertake the audit of the temple properties, assets and accounts.

ADVERTISEMENT

Irregularities Detected

Rai had pointed out irregularities in the purity and weightage of the temple’s valuables.

A comprehensive audit report which is said to be 1,000 pages bound in two volumes and covers a period of 2004-2014, pointed out discrepancies and a lack of transparency in the auditing process of the temple wealth.

According to a special audit report that was submitted by a committee headed by Vinod Rai, 769 pots of gold worth Rs 186 crore and sale deeds of 2.11 acres of land that were sold in 1970 are missing, while around 263 kilos of gold are deemed lost in purification procedures from the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple.

Rai had pointed out an ‘abnormal’ increase in temple expenditure.

He recommended the constitution of an administrative committee comprising a retired IAS officer, a representative each from the Travancore royal family and the Devaswom Board, the tantri (chief priest) of the temple, two prominent devotee-citizens and an executive officer appointed by the Kerala government with a fixed tenure of three years.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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