Hindu temple – Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple – dedicated to Lord Vishnu is located in Thiruvananthapuram. Its principal deity, Padmanabhaswamy, is enshrined in Anantha-sayanam posture (in eternal sleep or Yoganidra on serpent Anantha). It drew the world’s attention in recent days. This is the wealthiest institution and place of worship of any kind in the recorded history of the world in terms of precious metals and precious stones.
There are reliable historical documents or other sources to determine exactly when and by whom the original idol of the deity was built. Some noted scholars, writers and historians, like the late Dr. L A Ravi Varma of Travancore, have said that this enigmatic temple was set up on the first day of Kali Yuga, which is over 5,000 years ago. Some sources believe it was built in the 16th Century by Travancore kings. The Travancore Maharajah bears the title, “Sree Padmanabhadasa’ (Servant of Lord Padmanabha). The shrine is currently run by a trust headed by the royal family of Travancore since independence. Travancore Maharajahs are Cheras and descendants of the great saint Kulashekhara Alwar.
Travancore kings stored immense riches within the thick stone walls and vaults of the temple, according to locals. The Travancore kingdom merged with the princely state of Cochin after 1947 and eventually became the present state of Kerala. Besides immeasurable wealth of about 1 lakh crore worth of gold, the committee which was employed takes into account its value based on ancient and historical facts; the value of the treasure will be approximately ten times of the value estimated right now. The treasure includes ancient gold chains, diamonds, rubies and precious stones, silver vessels, and gold statues the value of which is humanly impossible to evaluate in terms of money, bags full of golden coins of different nations including Napoleon and Italin.
This mysterious temple containing six vaults has long been shrouded in mystery, reminiscent of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves or an Indiana Jones movie. Legend has it that there is an ancient curse that will befall those who defile the sacred site. In the 1930s, treasure hunters tried to open the temple, and as soon as they did, deadly serpents emerged from one of the vaults. For a very long time, no-one dared to open the temple as many were afraid of the ancient curse. The inspection of the temple began after SC appointed a seven-member panel to enter and assess the value of objects stored in its cellars, including two chambers last thought to have been opened about 150 years ago.
In 2001, archaeologists with the help of temple priests opened the underground chambers to discover six chambers, labelling the vaults A to F. What they found inside left them startled – gold coins dating back thousands of years, gold necklaces as long as nine feet and weighing about 2.5 kg, about one tonne of the yellow metal in the shape of rice trinkets, sticks made of the yellow metal, sacks full of diamonds, gold ropes, thousands of pieces of antique jewellery studded with diamonds and emeralds, crowns and other precious stones lay scattered in A chamber.
All these things were strewn and scattered everywhere, recalls justice CS Rajan, a 75-year-old retired Kerala High Court judge who was part of the team that entered the vault, called a kallara.
“They were not really arranged systematically. There were baskets, some earthen pots, some copper pots where all these things were kept. It was a magnificent experience. There are no words to describe it.”
Later, they unearthed more surprising artefacts. Among them were 7 kg of gold coins dating back to the East India Company period, 18 coins from Napoleon’s era, precious stones wrapped in silk bundles beside over 1,000 kg of gold coins and trinkets and a small elephant made of the yellow metal. There were also sovereigns bearing the 1772 seal indicating they were from the reign of the then native king Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma.
It is believed that any attempt to open the mysterious vault B with man-made technology will result in catastrophes that will occur in and around the temple. Vault B must not be opened other than by chanting. The origin of this temple is lost in antiquity. The secret vault can be opened by a highly erudite ‘sadhu’ or ‘tantrik’ who is familiar with the knowledge of extricating ‘Naga Bandham’ or ‘Naga Pasam’ by chanting a ‘Garuda Mantra’. The door can’t be opened by any other means. It posed a challenge as no powerful ‘siddhapurushas’ or ‘yogis’ or ‘tantriks’ were available in India or in the world.
Many believe the historic shrine conceals greater riches still. On the day the first vault was opened, the court team also tried to open a second, known as Kallara B. However, the door, with its heavily rusted, old-fashioned lock with three levers requiring three separate keys, was jammed shut.
“It is a peculiar kind of old-time lock, and it is very much rusted,” recalls Rajan. “The blacksmith could not open it, and we did not want to break open the door, being a part of the temple and all.”
According to an ancient legend, the mysterious vault B was guarded by serpents. In 1933, British writer Emily Gilchrist Hatch described one attempt.
“When the state needed additional money, it was thought expedient to open these chests and use the wealth they contained,” she wrote.
“A group of people got together and attempted to enter the vaults with torches. When they found them infested with cobras they fled.” However, former CAG Vinod Rai dismissed it, saying that it has been opened at least seven times to his knowledge since 1990. However, what’s inside has not been revealed. There are those who think vault B contains even more incredible ancient treasures. The mysterious Padmanabhaswamy Temple could be termed India’s own El Dorado.