Controversial Treasure Unearthed in Kerala

Yesterday, the BBC reported that a gigantic treasure, worth in excess of $500 million, is being unearthed in Kerala, a state in southern India.  The treasure, accumulated centuries ago, was stored in six secret underground vaults beneath the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple.

The Sree Padmanabhaswamy Treasure?

The Kallaras, or granite chambers, were sealed up in the 1860s to protect the treasure from the British Raj.  Two of these chambers have remained unopened since that time.  The other four were last opened in the 1950s.

The Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple itself was constructed in the 1500s by the kingdom of Travancore.  The Travancore Maharajahs dedicated themselves, the temple, and its wealth to Padmanabhaswamy, “an aspect of the Hindu God Vishnu in eternal sleep.”  Since that time, their descendants have controlled the temple along with the treasure.  However, a recent court case allowed the state government to seize control of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple and its wealth, supposedly to protect the treasure from theft.

Despite numerous Hindu protests and court appeals from the family, India’s Supreme Court ordered the vaults to be opened.  It also appointed a seven-person committee to inventory and assess the treasure.  According to the Business Standard, the recovered treasure includes:

  • Three sets of golden crowns of the kings of Travancore
  • Kulasekhrara Perumal crown
  • Precious stones including pearls, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires
  • Heaps of gold shaped like paddy
  • Around 1,000 Sarappoli chains, the longest of which is eighteen feet long.  Four of these weigh around 2kg each. Total weight of these is more than a quintal
  • Long ropes of gold like the traditional coir rope of Kerala
  • Diamonds
  • Hundreds of golden coins kept in bags and wooden boxes
  • Pendants and a large number of golden batons
  • Around 100,000 gold and silver coins
  • Golden waistbands studded with diamonds, each weighing 2kg
  • Gold and silver bars weighing 1-2kg each
  • Gold and silver utensils, crowns, golden umbrellas and pots

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

What a haul!  It’s exciting to see these treasures, some of which date back centuries, come to light.  But I’m deeply troubled about the way in which it happened.  Essentially, the Supreme Court declared that private property belonging to a religious temple was a national treasure and then used that as an excuse to seize possession of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple.

I sincerely hope that the treasure of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple adds to our understanding of the kingdom of Travancore.  Still, I wish that Kerala’s government and the Supreme Court had gone about this in a far different manner.

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