It is one quantum of wealth that is giving sleepless nights to many. The estimated value of assets kept inside one of the chambers inside the Padmanabhaswamy temple is Rs 1,00,000 crore—this is just the intrinsic value discounting the antique value of the treasure.
The temple got caught up in the legal web when, in 2010, a petition was filed in the High Court, alleging mismanagement of temple affairs. The High Court then asked the state to take over the temple, its assets and management. The royal family challenged the order in the Supreme Court, which stayed the High Court order and asked for a detailed inventory to be drawn up of all the valuables in the temple's six vaults. It was in 2011 the “hidden treasures” became public. The case is still pending before SC.
The B vault is one of the six vaults inside the temple and it is supposed to be a house of secret treasures. The fact that nobody knows about what is exactly inside the vault that has been hidden behind an ajar door, which has not been opened for ages, adds to its secrecy.
Rumours are flying thick and high about what is inside `kallara (vault) B' which is yet to opened. The SC has already spend hours to discuss the temple treasures and it is still pending. There have been reports that the Travancore royal family, the custodian of the temple, have disagreed to the idea that the `vault B be opened and examined.
Opinions are divided about the opening of the vaults and what to do with the treasures. While some section want the temple treasures to be nationalised, some believe it should remain untouched as it belongs to the the temple. At the same time, a good number believes that but for the Travancore family, nobody would have got any hint about the royal assets. “There are many other royal families in the country. But does anyone has any idea about their wealth and has any one staked claims to it. If they wanted to take the treasures, the Travancore Royals could have done it easily. Not a single soul would have come to know about its existence,” said historiographer S. Uma Maheswari.
Amid all these arguments and counter arguments, the princesses of Travancore royal family—Pooyam Thirunal Gowri Parvathi Bayi and Aswathi Thirunal Gowri Lakshmi Bayi—talks to THE WEEK.
The hidden treasures in the Padmanabhaswamy Temple is quite a talking point—nationally and internationally...
Parvathi Bayi: Let me tell you, the treasures were not hidden to us. We always knew about its existence. It is part of the tradition that our ancestors submitted everything to Padmanabhaswamy. Everything from small gold miniatures to exquisite gifts from other palaces and visiting dignitaries worth lakhs are all submitted to the Temple. Whatever we had, have all been submitted to swamy. That has been the custom. So those treasures have never been hidden to us.
Did you have a clear idea about the quantum of the assets in the vaults?
Lakshmi Bayi: We never counted it since we ardently believe that all these treasures belong to the lord. Once submitted to the lord, it is no longer ours. It is lord Padmanabha's. So we never really spend time on counting it.
Now the entire focus is on vault B which has not been opened for quite some time...
Parvathi Bayi: If you find any structure with a door , then then it is clear that it is meant to be opened. There is no doubt about it. But when and who should open it is the moot point.
SC has mooted the proposal to open vault B. What is the royal family's take on that?
Parvathi Bayi: If there is an emergency for the temple or the benefit of common people, then one may open the vault. But if you want to open the vault B for the sake of satisfying the curiosity of a few people, then we are against it.
Does it mean the royal family will not oppose the opening of the vault B?
Lakshmi Bayi: Our position is that we will go by whatever the `thantri' says. As per the custom and also as per the rule of law, he is the ultimate authority to take a call. If he says the vault has to be opened, then we have no issues. Otherwise, we are totally against it.
Has it ever been opened in your memory?
Parvathi Bayi: It has never been opened as far as I recall. Even our ancestors did not remember it being opened. If a vault or a room is not opened for quite a long time, then it means something.
Lakshmi Bayi: An ashtamangalya prashnam was performed earlier in this regard. Then it was found that the vault should not be opened as there is a peculiar flow of energy in that vault.
There are a few say that the royal family should take the lead to make things clearer...
Parvathi Bayi: Why should we take the lead just to quench the curiosity of a few. In the best of our knowledge, it has not been opened. Everything should be done as per the custom. We are no one to break them.''
There are many rumours about what is inside the vaults...
Parvathi Bayi: They are just that—rumours. All these rumours that Thiruvananthapuram will submerge in sea water if the vault is opened, that it is full of precious stones... are all ridiculous.
Lakshmi Bayi: We never objected when vault A was opened which houses all the treasures. If we are opposing the opening of vault B, then there must be some reason. Even if we are in power now, we will not open it unless and until thantri directs us.''
Has the state government contacted the palace in this regard?
Lakshmi Bayi: The devaswom minister had come to meet us. He asked for our view and we have conveyed it. It is a nice thing to see that the Left government is very conscious and sensitive towards the matter.
Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai had told the SC in his report that the vault had been opened once in 1990 and twice in 2002...
No. On those occasions, only the ante-room of the vault was opened. The main chamber of the vault B went untouched. The temple documents is proof to this.
There is a strong sentiment that the temple treasures must be used for public good. Will you agree?
If our ancestors wanted to possess all those, then it would not have been submitted. It remained there untouched all these years even after independence. We have absolute clarity about that which will be relieved at a suitable time once the case is over.
There have been a few allegations against the royal family that it has taken away a few belongings
Parvathi Bayi: It is our ancestors who submitted all the valuables to the temple and we always knew about it. To blame us that we took away the belongings of lord Padmanabha on whose feet we ourselves have submitted is so painful.
Lakshmi Bayi: At times, we feel we made a mistake of not leaving the palace like most royals did after losing their hegemony. We stayed on here because of our faith in lord Padmanabha. It really hurts.
The princesses wound up the conversation stating that they will fight the case with all vigor. “Our fight is not to stake claim to the treasures but to protect our dignity and integrity.”