Sri Anantha Padmanabha Swamy has been roused
by Sandhya Jain on 12 Jul 2011 44 Comments

Can Bhagwan, rudely awakened from ‘ananta sayanam’ (divine sleep or yog-nidra on the divine serpent Anantha Seshanaga) during which He maintains the stability of the worlds, be forced, equally abruptly, to return to His repose because the Profane have developed cold feet? Thiruvananthapuram, sacred abode of Sri Anantha Padmanabha Swamy, now reverberates with this question.


Even a genie cannot be returned to its old bottle. How then, can a God?


An issue dodged by both the religious devout and the irreligious profane pertains to the status of the three-and-a-half feet tall gold pratima (image) of Mahavishnu (Vishnu reclining on Adi Naga) studded with rubies and emeralds, with ceremonial attire for adorning the deity in the form of 16-part gold anki (cloth) weighing nearly 30 kgs., together with gold coconut shells, one studded with rubies and emeralds.


Also unveiled is a one foot high 5 kg. solid gold murti of Krishna playing the flute. The writer does not know if any more murtis cast of precious metals or carved out of precious stones (common in ancient Jaina temples) have been found in the temple cellars.


To my mind, these cannot be considered as chadhava (offerings) to the Deity. These are distinct pratimas that a devotee or group of devotees had specially cast and offered to the temple for worship, as an act of piety, possibly on fulfillment of a fervent wish. This is a common practice in temples across the land even today, though the images are mostly marble or stone.


Hence, within a reasonable time frame, satisfying the demands of security, all pratimas that have emerged with the hidden wealth must be ceremonially installed in the temple and worshipped in accordance with the sastras. Scholar pandits may be consulted to decide if they require separate temples of their own within the temple complex – most likely they do, and that would also be the best way to give them adequate protection. To my mind, it would be an ill-omen to return the deities to banishment in the stone cellars. Devotees also have the right to worship the murtis that have waited for so long to give darshan and receive homage.


The golden images were likely hidden from public viewing and even access and knowledge on account of the political turbulence Hindu society suffered for centuries under successive Muslim and Christian assaults, and wholesale sack and loot of temple treasures. The hiding of precious images has been recorded throughout the country in Hindu and Jaina temples, and is the most painful, and least acknowledged, historical experience of the Hindu people. The Buddhist monasteries were completely sacked and ruined; the faith itself destroyed by the wholesale slaughter of monks.  


Barely two centuries ago, Sri Vishnu as Jagannath, was robbed of the valuable Kohinoor diamond by the British when this precious gift of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was en route to the temple at Puri. Should it ever be recovered (if some miracle can compel the British royal family that thrived and still thrives on the loot and rape of nations, it must be understood that it is NOT a national asset, but the legitimate property of Sri Jagannath). This was the environment in which the priests and servitors of Sri Anantha Padmanabha Swamy considered it prudent to conceal the deity’s stupendous wealth in secret underground storerooms, known only to the ruling dynasty and temple priests.


Closer to their own home, the depredations of Tipu Sultan would have reverberated all over the region. Tipu went to Guruvayoor Temple after destroying Mammiyoor Temple. In the face of the approaching danger, the sacred murti of Guruvayoor was dispatched to the Ambalapuzha Sri Krishna Temple in Travancore State, under the protection of the current Royal Family. Only after Tipu’s reign ended was the murti ceremoniously reinstated in Guruvayoor Temple. To this day, Ambalapuzha Sri Krishna Temple conducts daily pujas at the place where the pratima of Guruvayoor was temporarily lodged and worshipped; such is the nature of Hindu spirituality.


According to the Mysore Gazetteer, Tipu Sultan destroyed over 8000 temples in South India, particularly in the Malabar and Cochin principalities. (See The History of Cochin by K.P. Padmanabha Menon and History of Kerala by A. Sreedhara Menon).


Among the more prominent among these are the Perumanam Temple and all temples between Trichur and Karuvannur river (August, 1786); Hemambika Temple of Kallekulangara, the Kula Devata of the royal family of Palakkad; Keraladhiswara Mahavishnu Temple, Tanur Town, Malappuram Dist.; the Jain Temple in Palghat; Irinjalakuda Tiruvilvamala Temple complex at Vilvadri Hill north of Thrissur town; Mammiyur Siva Temple in Guruvayoor town; Thiruvanchikulam Mahadeva Temple, in Methala Panchayat; Triprangode Siva Temple near Tirur; Thrichabaram Sri Krishna Temple near Taliparamba, Kannur dist; Taliparamba Siva Temple, Kannur district; Tiruvanjikulam Siva temple near Kodungallur; Vadakkum-Nathan Temple of Trichur; Varakkal Durga Temple, West Hill Kozhikode; Trikkandiyur Mahadeva Temple, Tirur town, Malappuram Dist; Sukapuram Dakshinaamoorthy Temple, near Edappal, Malappuram; Vadukunda Siva temple at Vengara village Kannur district; Pariharapuram Subrahmanya Temple, Ramanathakara, Kozhikode district; Vadukunda Siva Temple of Madai, Kannur district; and Thrikkavu Durga Temple of Ponnani (converted into a Military Garrison).


Similarly, the Malabar Gazetteer lists, among the important temples destroyed by Tipu Sultan: the Tali Mahadeva Temple, Kozhikode; Sri Valayanadu Bhagavathy Temple, Govindapuram, Calicut; Tiruvannur Siva Temple, Kozhikode; Sri Thirpuraikal Bhadrakali Temple, Puthur, Palakkad district and Narayankannur temple at Ramantali, Kannur district. The Tirunavaya Temple, renowned all over India as a centre of Rig Veda teaching, was destroyed, as was Calicut, capital of the Zamorin Rajas.

The priests of Triprayar Temple concealed the main deity at Gnanappilly Mana in a remote village; it returned only after Tipu withdrew from the Malabar towards the end of 1790. Tipu destroyed two Sri Krishna Temples in the vicinity of Guruvayur, which were also subsequently recovered by the Hindus – the Parthasarathy Temple and the Tirupati Balaji Temple.



Given this lived history of the Hindu people, the mega-publicity given to the stupendous wealth unveiled from the cellar-strongholds of the Sri Anantha Padmanabha Swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram has caused grave disquiet among the devotees of the Lord. Devotees still remember with agony that a stone harmonium of the Padmanabha Temple was stolen by the British and smuggled to Britain.


Dr R Nagaswamy, former Director of Archaeology, Tamil Nadu, who played a stellar role in the return of the famous (Simon Norton) Nataraja image to India, asserts that the treasures belong unambiguously to Sri Padmanabha, to whom the offerings were made. There are thousands of inscriptions from the second century BC onwards that attest to the fact that the offerings were made to the Deity and not to the temple. Pallava inscriptions of the 3rd and 4th century mention gifts made to the deity. Many inscriptions from Kerala from the 9th century onwards record gifts to deities.


Hindu gods are a juristic entity and can legally own property, and act through representatives; in Siva temples transactions were made in the name of Chandikesvara; in Vishnu temples through Vishvaksena. In court cases in the 19th and 20th centuries, the courts accepted the main deity as a jurist entity. In the case of the London Nataraja, the trial judge of the London High court observed that so long as a single stone remained in situ, a temple was eternally a temple with the right to own property, and hence the metal image of Nataraja that belonged to the ruined Chola temple of Pattur must be returned to the temple.

Dr Nagaswamy shuns the view that the temple treasures should be displayed in a museum, pointing out that a sacred gift to a temple cannot be reduced to a museum exhibit. This is certainly the correct position, though given the kind of genuine interest that has also been excited by the discoveries the temple management could consider arranging small displays of heritage items within the precincts, with adequate security, against appropriate fees to defer costs. This would preserve the sanctity of the temple gifts and traditions, and would be a special feast to devotees.


In no circumstances should Sri Padmanabha temple or any of the grand temples where non-Hindus are not permitted, open their doors to foreigners and reduce the temple to picnic spots or tourist sites – in the name of attracting tourism. Even in a lenient State like Goa, temples have begun to impose a dress code on foreign visitors, and Delhi temples are beginning to follow suit. I think the ban on non-believers needs to be extended rigorously in all temples across the country if the dharma is to be saved from the increasing intrusion (and perversion) of so-called foreign bhaktas, who infiltrate as devotees and soon assume managerial control to the detriment of the dharma. This process, which was first confined to New Age globe trotters and Dollar Swamis, has shockingly been found to have degraded more hoary institutions as well.


Devotees are in rage and grief at the rude fashion in which the Supreme Court ordered breach of the Lord’s sacred precincts to satisfy vicarious curiosity about the legendary wealth of hoary Hindu temples. The vacuous allegation by a busybody without locus standi or cultural sensitivity or personal devotion should have been dismissed with contempt and a hefty fine for being a nuisance petition.


Ironically, the inventory of gold, silver, precious stones and priceless jewellery and utensils and what not – even without its heritage and antique value – has given a headache to the Supreme Court judges who will be held primarily responsible should covetous eyes endanger this precious and sacred trove. Having rushed in where angels fear to tread – on the toes of Sri Anantha Padmanabha Swamy and the divine Seshanaga – the judges have now beaten a hasty retreat, staying the order to force open the sixth and last stronghold, and mumbling variously about filming the treasure, to deciding what to keep in safe vaults (do they mean Swiss banks?), to deciding what to exhibit in a Museum.


It is shocking that the learned judges do not know that Museums are warehouses for the relics of DEAD cultures; they were created by the Christian world to house the destroyed icons and artifacts of the myriad civilisations, religions and peoples they had utterly annihilated, mostly through genocide. Museums are showrooms for the civilisational scalps collected by the White man. Is that the goal the Judges have for Hindu civilisation?


Honourable judges – please just back off and stay off. And take the Hon’ble V.R. Krishna Iyer with you. Please do some ‘poverty alleviation’ with the Provident and Pension Funds of the Supreme Court judges before you pontificate on what to do with the wealth of Hindu temples, which does not belong to you.




Sri Anantha Padmanabha temple is one of 108 divya desams or holy abodes of Vishnu, and finds mention in the Divya Prabandha of the Tamil Alvar saints of the 6th-9th centuries CE. It was modified in the 16th century and its grand gopuram constructed, and again in the 18th century.


Initially, the temple belonged to Tamil Ay kings who ruled the southern parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The kingdom of Venad emerged when the Ay’s declined and the first king Marthanda Varma (1729-1758) donated his kingdom to Sri Padmanabha and ruled as his servant. He brought 12,008 Salagrama stones from the Gandaki river of Nepal to fashion the 18-foot long deity – a grand testimony to the vastness of the Hindu civilisational frontier.


Since then, the temple has been inextricably linked with the Travancore ruling family. It is run by a trust created by the royal house, currently headed by Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma, which retained control of the temple at independence vide a covenant at the time of signing the Instrument of Accession.


Unlike other Indian royals, the Travancore family was deeply rooted in culture and shunned the life of ease. The palace financed itself through earnings from its Spice business and not from the state treasury. Shri Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma, next in line to head the family, runs the Aspinwall Company which supplies pepper to many European royal households.


Travancore kingdom once extended from Kanyakumari (now in Tamil Nadu) in the south to Aluva (Ernakulam district) in the north. Padmanabhapuram (now in TN) was the first capital, but it was shifted to Thiruvananthapuram by Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma (Dharma Raja), who protected the refugees fleeing Malabar from Tipu Sultan’s assault.

The rulers always knew of the riches, but never touched them. There are references to the wealth in the Pradhanapetta Mathilakom Records (Important Mathilakom Records) compiled by the famous Malayalam poet Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer, 1941; and also in the 12-volume Kottaram (Palace) manual. So fastidious were the rulers in respecting the property as divine that there is a royal tradition of the royal family dusting the sand off their feet on leaving the shrine, so that not even a speck of dust is taken that belongs to Padmanabha.

Other important princes include Swathi Thirunal (1813-1846), the legendary Carnatic musician who promoted English education; and the last king Chithira Thirunal Bala Rama Varma (1912-1991) who abolished the death sentence, making Travancore the first Indian territory to do so. The last king issued the landmark Temple Entry Proclamation in 1936, which permitted the erstwhile “untouchables” to enter temples.


Former ICHR chairman M.G.S. Narayanan says there is ample documentary evidence that the treasure belongs to the temple. The Travancore Manual prepared by Nagamayyah in the early 20th century mentions that the temple administration was controlled by “ettara yogam” (a group of eight-and-half persons), which is generally interpreted as meaning eight Brahmins and a member of the Travancore royal family. The manual showed that the temple then had an annual revenue of Rs.75,000, and was independent of the government. It indicated that its treasures included huge quantities of money, gold and precious stones, the “offerings of ages.”


Scholars are generally agreed that nothing has been found in the vaults which could be war booty – a view that should debunk secularists who are doing their level best to taint the stupendous treasure trove. In fact, scholars should now speedily transcribe the palm leaf Mathilagam records, the royal records dealing with Sri Padmanabha Swamy temple. This would settle the details of the period to which the riches belong and who gifted them to the temple.


The author is Editor, 

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