Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wealth of Lord Padmanabha

Centuries back, temples acted as banks in ancient times and hoarded gold and other treasures there, as they were confident that the wealth was safe under the nose of the Lord. According to Kautilya, the king should save gold and other precious materials for emergencies like saving the kingdom and its people, and naturally the temple was the obvious choice. This is confirmed by the ancient law givers like Manu, Yajnavalkya and others. Thus concealing the treasure in secret cells became popular.

A Hindu king who defeated another Hindu king would not touch the Lord's wealth. Incidentally, a Karnataka king Vikramaditya II of the Chalukya dynasty, after defeating the Pallavas, went to the Rajasimheswara temple at Kanchi, inspected the wealth of the Lord and returned it to the temple after worshipping the deity. He recorded this on a pillar in the temple in Kannada language.

But with the commencement of the Muslim invasions, the position changed. For example, Alauddin made no secret of his intention to loot the Hindu temple for its wealth. His Generals did their job of looting with clinical precision. A Muslim writer Ferishta estimates the looted wealth as 100 mounds of gold, 100 mounds of silver, 2 mounds of diamonds, 600 mounds of pearls, in addition to rubies, emeralds, sapphires etc. Another invader Ghazni looted the famous Somanatha temple (Gujarat) and is recorded to have carried away 7 lakh gold coins, 700 mounds of gold, hundreds of gold and silver plates, 20 mounds of diamonds and diamond-studded ornaments. Such instances can be found in plenty.

Thus after medieval period, kings began to stack their wealth in secret chambers of the temples, so that it would be safe and unknown to others. Perhaps this is the case with the wealth of the Padmanabha temple at Tiruvananthapuram. This area, known as Tiruvankur (Travencore), was a rich mercantile place from the early centuries BC.

After passing through many dynasties, it became a subordinate of Vijayanagara Empire. After the decline of Vijayanagara Empire, this area was occupied by oppressive petty chiefs. This was put to an end by King Martanda Varma in 1729 AD. He expanded his kingdom and in 1750, went to the Padmanabha temple along with his queen, son and other members of the family and placed the royal sword (Pattada Katti) at the feet of the deity and dedicated himself and his entire dynasty to the service of Lord Padmanabha and styled himself as Padmanabha Dasa (Servant of Lord Padmanabha). From then on, he minted gold, silver and copper coins with the portrait of reclining Padmanabha (Anantashayana) and also including the Vaishnava symbol, conch (Shankha) & wheel (Chakra). Some of the coins have the writing Sri Padmanabha on them.

This dynasty had illustrious kings like Karthika Ramavarma, queen Gauri Parvathi Bai, Swati Tirunal Ramavarma (musical composer), and Raja Ravivarma (painter). Their kingdom merged into Indian Union in 1947. Even though they lost royalty, they continued to be the patrons and managers of this temple. Almost daily the Prince visits this temple with a white lungi and bare upper body followed by aides. I had the good fortune of meeting this Prince in 1992 at this temple, and talked to him about the cult of Ananthapadmanabha in Karnataka.

Even today, the Prince follows this tradition. Even though he is one of the richest Princes, he is so simple before the deity as if he is a servant — Dasa.

The Padmanabha temple is one of the biggest temples in Kerala built in a combined Dravidian and Kerala style architecture. The antiquity of this temple goes back to 6th – 9th centuries, but the present structure was reconstructed 200 years ago. The 100 ft. tall gopura, mantapa with tall pillars are great attractions of the temple. The sanctum is not square but oblong, as it had to accommodate reclining Vishnu (Ananthashayana).

The historians of Kerala have suggested that the invasion of Kerala by Tipu Sultan might have prompted these rulers to stack these ornaments in secret cells of the temple. There were complaints of mismanagement of funds by the royal family. An IPS officer complained to the Supreme Court and as per the order of the Court, the search of the secret cells is being undertaken. The wealth is estimated to be over Rs. One lakh crore.

I have had the good fortune of examining the ornaments of Lord Venkateshwara of Tirupati. The pattern of the treasures of both the temple is similar; but Padmanabha temple excels in quantity.

All these centuries, the treasures were safe. But now, it has come under the gaze of the people and politicians and is no longer safe. Ananthapadmanabha, the real owner of these treasures, now has a huge responsibility of protecting them from greedy mortals. Let us wait and see if the Lord will be successful in protecting his treasures.

Prof. A.V. Narasimha Murthy,
Former Head,
Department of Ancient History & Archaeology,
University of Mysore

Courtesy: star of mysore


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