After a nine-year legal battle, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court will deliver its verdict over the management of the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, one of the richest shrines in the world, on Monday.
Devotees are upbeat as they hope uncertainty over the management of the temple will be over facilitating smooth functioning of the shrine. A spokesperson of the royal family also expressed confidence that a favourable verdict will be given to preserve the age-old shrine.
“Sanctity of the temple is supreme. We hope everything will be settled,” said Velayudhan Nair, a regular at the temple for 52 years. The Fort Association of Residents, an umbrella organisation comprising devotees around the temple, is also upbeat.
The temple shot to fame after an estimated wealth of Rs one lakh crore was unearthed during the SC-ordered inventory from one of the subaltern vaults of the sixth century temple in 2011. After this the number of visitors increased manifold and it turned into a major pilgrimage and tourism spot in south India.
The erstwhile royal family of Travancore had moved the apex court in 2011 against the High Court order that handed over the temple management and assets to the state government. The apex court had later stayed the HC verdict and ordered the inventorying of the temple.
When one of the secret vaults was opened in 2011, treasure estimated at Rs one lakh crore was found. There are six chambers– later coded A to F– under the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. Of these, two are usually opened during the daily pooja and two twice a year and the remaining two (A&B) are secret vaults.
The second secret chamber “B” is yet to be opened and devotees and temple officials claim it may contain more wealth than the “A” vault. But the erstwhile royals, former custodians of the temple, opposed it strongly saying “it was against tantric customs and rituals and may bring trouble to the city which originated from the name of the presiding deity” (Thiru Ananatha Puram– the land of Sree Padmanabha, Lord Vishnu).
During the hearing both the state government and the royal family had said they had no claim over the wealth found in one of the vaults as it belonged to the deity and the temple. The sixth century Vishnu temple was believed to be rebuilt by then King Marthanda Varma who defeated Dutch colonizers in the Battle of Colachal in 1741. The legend goes that after he won the war he dedicated his victory to the presiding deity and ruled the kingdom as ‘Padmanabha dasan’ (servant of Lord Padmanabha).
A retired IPS officer T P Sundararajan, a staunch devotee, was the first to move the court in 2008, alleging large-scale pilferage at the temple. He claimed that many precious ornaments and jewels were smuggled out replacing them with lookalikes. Later the case was moved to High Court which handed over the management to the state government. While staying the HC order in 2011, the Supreme Court had ordered inventorying and later divested the royal family from managing temple affairs and formed an apex body to run the temple till the final verdict. In 2012, Sundararajan died while inventorying was half-way through.
As the legal battle prolonged there were suggestions to preserve the wealth of the temple, now manned by a battalion of commandos. During the earlier NDA regime, Minister of State for Tourism K J Alphons mooted a high-security museum to keep the treasure.
He had called on the royal family with an idea to build a Rs 300 crore underground museum near the temple. He assured the Centre will bear all expenses for the world-class museum and convert it into a major attraction of the country but the royals were not moved. With the final settlement round the corner, many feel there will be a decision on the wealth as well, lying in underground vaults.