The Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram stands as one of the most opulent religious sanctuaries globally. The vast wealth contained within its six vaults and numerous antechambers remains to be fully assessed.
The temple’s history and renown are shrouded in mystery and ancient grandeur. Countless tales, lacking precise details, have sprung from its vast treasury of priceless gemstones, gold, silver, and a still-unopened vault. The temple’s reputation is so immense that it draws numerous daily visitors, all seeking the divine presence of Lord Padmanabha.
The temple, with its origins dating back to the eighth century, is among the 108 Vishnu temples found in India. Within this temple, the deity is depicted in the Ananthashayana posture, also known as the reclining position, resting upon Adisesha, the serpent god.
In 1686 AD, a significant fire came close to annihilating the temple. However, Marthanda Varma, who assumed the throne of Travancore in 1729, initiated extensive efforts to restore and reconstruct the temple. During this restoration, the temple’s five stories were rebuilt, and later, Dharma Raja, who governed the princely state, oversaw the completion of the sixth and seventh storeys.
History Of The Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple
The temple’s wealth began accumulating during the reign of Marthanda Varma, who governed Travancore as a vassal of Lord Padmanabha. He offered both the conquered princely states and their riches as a humble tribute to Lord Padmanabha.
In 1965, Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, the final king of Travancore, established the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Trust. To this day, the trust continues to be led by the former Travancore royal family, who serve as the governing and administrative authority of the temple.
The reclining idol stretches to a length of 18 feet, while the imposing seven-storey eastern tower, built in the traditional Tamil architectural style, stands proudly over the city, serving as a prominent landmark of Thiruvananthapuram.
Stone sculptures contribute magnificence to the tower. Historical records indicate that a workforce of 4,000 skilled sculptors, 6,000 dedicated laborers, and 100 elephants toiled relentlessly for six months to accomplish the construction of the single-stone ‘sheevelippura,’ also known as the oblong corridor. This remarkable corridor boasts a total of 365 intricately carved pillars, each hewn from a single, massive rock.
Controversy surrounded the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in 2007 when a complaint was lodged at the Munsiff Court in Thiruvananthapuram, alleging the theft of numerous artifacts from the temple. The legal dispute eventually escalated to the Supreme Court, which, in 2011, issued an order to conduct an audit and comprehensive inventory of the temple’s valuable treasures and assets.
Numerous priceless gems, gold and silver artifacts, which had remained securely locked away for over 150 years, were discovered within the six vaults at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Of the six vaults, five were opened and thoroughly examined.
Within these five vaults, a dazzling array of treasures was unveiled, including gold coins, golden idols, jewelry, precious gems, and golden crowns. Although the precise value and extent of this treasure trove were not disclosed, it was widely regarded as the world’s most extensive collection of gold and precious stones.
The opening of these vaults was a challenging endeavor, with Vault A yielding the most prized treasures. This remarkable collection included a four-foot-tall, three-foot-wide Vishnu idol crafted from solid gold, an 18-foot-long garland constructed from gold coins, and gold coins dating back to both the Roman and medieval eras.
Nevertheless, the opening of Vault B, which the Travancore royals vehemently opposed on grounds of tradition and divine will, remained a contentious issue. The royal family sought a Supreme Court directive to prevent the unveiling of this enigmatic vault, resulting in a court order to keep it sealed until further notice.
The contents of Vault B have remained shrouded in mystery, with tales of serpents, bats, and otherworldly guardians guarding its secrets. The antiquity of these vaults and the anticipation of countless treasures have contributed to the aura of intrigue that surrounds them.
Legend has it that some temple officials once attempted to open Vault B but were terrified by the sound of ocean waves crashing on a distant shore. They abandoned their efforts and fled, according to these stories.
The vaults house treasures donated by the Chera, Pandya, Pallava, and Chola dynasties, in addition to the contributions of the Travancore rulers and the treasures “surrendered” by vassal kings and their subjects. These treasures continue to lie within the vaults, captivating the curiosity of the world and giving rise to a myriad of deeply-rooted tales steeped in mystery.