Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram is one of the richest shrines in the world. The riches it preserves in its six vaults and their multiple antechambers remain to be fully determined.
The history and fame of this temple are intimately linked to mystery and rich antiquity. Several stories without any accuracy were born from his huge collection of priceless gems, gold, silver and a safe yet to be opened. The fame of the temple is such that several people visit this abode of Lord Padmanabha daily.
The temple, believed to have its roots in the 8th century, is one of 108 Vishnu temples in India. The deity here is in the Ananthashayana posture – or prone position – resting on Adisesha, the serpent god.
A major fire had nearly destroyed the temple in 1686 AD. Marthanda Varma, who became King of Travancore in 1729, undertook its renovation and reconstruction work. The five floors of the temple were then built and Dharma Raja, who later ruled the princely state, completed the sixth and seventh floors.
The temple’s accumulation of wealth dates back to the reign of Marthanda Varma, who ruled Travancore as a vassal of Lord Padmanabha. He returned the countries (princely states) he had conquered and their wealth at the feet of Lord Padmanabha.
The last king of Travancore, Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, established the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Trust in 1965. Former members of the royal family of Travancore still run the trust, the controlling and administrative body of the temple.
The idol in the resting pose is 18 feet long. The monumental seven-storey eastern tower of the temple, built in the Tamil style, stands proudly overlooking the city and is one of the main landmarks of Thiruvananthapuram.
Stone carvings add grandeur to the tower. It was recorded that 4,000 carvers, 6,000 laborers and 100 elephants worked for six months to complete the single stone ‘sheevelipura’, or oblong corridor, which has 365 pillars. Each pillar was hewn from a single rock.
The Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple became mired in controversy after a complaint was filed with the Munsiff Court in Thiruvananthapuram in 2007, claiming that several items from the temple had been stolen. The legal battle escalated to the Supreme Court, which in 2011 ordered an audit and inventory of the temple’s treasures and possessions.
Several precious stones, priceless gold and silver objects came from the vaults, which had remained closed for more than a century and a half. The temple treasures are kept in six chests, A, B, C, D, E, and F. Of the six, five chests have been opened and examined.
The five vaults displayed a glittering collection of gold coins, gold idols, jewels, precious stones, and gold crowns. The exact value and size of the treasure has not been revealed although it is believed to be the largest collection of gold and precious stones in the world.
The vaults were opened with great difficulty. The most valuable treasures were found in Vault-A. The treasures included a gold idol of Vishnu four feet high and three feet wide, an 18-foot-long garland made of gold coins, and gold coins dating from Roman times and the Middle Ages. .
The royal family of Travancore have always opposed the opening of Vault-B, claiming that it would be against custom and against the will of the gods. The royal family went to the Supreme Court to seek a directive against opening the mystery safe, and the court ordered it not to be opened until further notice.
The world has no idea what lies behind the heavy doors of Vault-B. There were tales of snakes, bats, and superhuman powers guarding the safe. Antiquity and the anticipation of countless treasures gave an aura of mystery to the stories.
It was said that some of the temple officials once tried to open Vault-B and were petrified to hear the sound of waves crashing on the beach. They abandoned their attempt and fled, according to the accounts.
The vaults contain treasures brought by Chera, Pandya, Pallava and Chola kings, in addition to Travancore rulers, in addition to those “returned” by vassal kings and their subjects. Treasures still rest in these vaults, arousing the curiosity of the world and giving rise to several tales deeply rooted in mystery.