First, thank you for the information, I was not aware of this temple.
As a classical archaeologist I found it really intruiging that there are apparently so many conflicting reports.
With a very light fact checking process, you can get a better idea of what's really going on.
First, the temple itself.
It is a "modern" building from 1750 and the original deed is still available at the local archive. I don't know if
there was something relevant at this location before but the mystical stuff around it take a little hit since it's not even a 300 years old
People seems to think it's older because it may contain some ancient artefacts.
The Maharaja of Travancore at the begining of the 18th century
is the key of this. As a ruler of considerable part of what is to become India, he already has a considerable personnal wealth with some objects
going way back, to a time of trades with the western world as early as 200 or 300 BC. You can think of a mixed bag of raw products (gems, gold,
silver, etc.), coins and more fashionable items in precious metal. Here goes your first pack of "ancient items". At the begining of the 18th century
our Maharaja unveils a plot from local chieftains. They are executed and there wealth seized. Here comes more precious objects. Then, he thinks it
could also be a good idea to conquer some nearby kingdoms and eventually the story ends up with more seizing.
At this point, he makes a smart move
. We are in 1750 and “As repentance (for plundering), he dedicated his entire kingdom to God". The
Padmanabhaswamy temple is build and it is smart for at least two reasons:
- First, he is officially giving the wealth to god so technically most of the treasure is not his anymore. BUT (and it's a big one) he is still the
curator of this wealth. You have to understand that a divinity can have terrestrial possessions but someone has to act as the guardian angel of said
possessions. Very smart hu?
- Second, that's also one of the safest way to keep huge amount of wealth. Stealing from local autorithies is one thing, stealing from the main god of
a civic religion is another. You don't steal from this rich guy that most people hate, you are stealing the community (even if at the end of the day,
the Maharaja can use it as his own if he is subtile enough) and angering god (and believers at the same time). That and big set of doors in the
So, the temple is a big safe with a specific organisation related to religious practices.
In the vaults you have: part of the personnal wealth of the Maharaja, most of the lootings that includes raw materials and precious objects, some of
them having a lithurgic value, and some gifts from the devout (that are mostly of small value and certainly used as a mean to account for daily
activities and general stuff of the sanctuary, no need to grab some gold or a ruby for that).
You have at least six vaults maybe even eight:
- C and E are used to store ornaments for daily liturgical activities (the ones that are open very often)
- D and F are used to store more precious ornaments for special festivals (the ones that are open a few time every year)
Both of them also contain a "small" amount of valuable goods, I guess to have stuff within easy reach in case of need.
- A and B are used to store the most valuables goods (the ones that are almost never open)
- G and H are newly (really?) found vaults and could very well be facing C and E, so that you have four vaults on each side of the sanctum
Map of the sanctuary
Each vault seems to have antechambers that lead further down to other chambers.
The description of Vault A is quite colorful:
"They unlocked two outer doors, one of metal and the other of wood. They entered a small room with a huge rectangular slab on the floor, like a
toppled tombstone. It took five men more than thirty minutes to move the slab. Beneath it they found a narrow, pitch-black passage, barely wide enough
for an adult to get through, leading down a short flight of steps. It was just like the “hollow covered by a stone” described by the British
missionary. Before the observers descended, a team of firemen arrived and used special equipment to pump oxygen into the enclosure. At the bottom of
the stairs was the vault."
As someone said earlier, the only thing preventing the opening of Vault B was a jammed latch from the third (and innermost) door. By the time they
found a competent enough locksmith, the supreme court ordered not to open it.
Why is this surfacing only now?
Well, for a long time it seems that there was an "understanding" about the temple. It was kind of a piggybank
and rulers where cautious enough not to take too much from it. People knew more or less there was wealth inside but not really the extent of it.
But in 2007 a guy started a lawsuit arguing that the goods of the temple were not secure since there were proof of small lootings from vaults C and E
(like people stealing a gold ring and putting back a fake one and so on). That was enough to shake the "understanding" that the Maharaja of
Travancore was the guardian angel of the temple since he has no real political power anymore.
I guess the real story is not as mystic as one would want but still, I find it to be a good story.
Some mysteries also remains:
- we still don't have access to a partial or a comprehensive inventory of the finds. I suspect it's related to some more stealing from officials and
they don't want to disclose to which extent since it could very well be considerable. It's also funny to think that an investigation directed toward
the cessation of mismanagrment and small lootings led to even more lootings.
- we still don't know what is inside Vault B beside 100 silver pots in the antechamber. It could be gold bars (a lot of them): "the previous maharaja,
Sri Chithira Thirunal, had shared secrets about the temple—including the fact that in its treasuries were solid-gold bars"
But the current head of the royal family is telling another story:
"He told me, rather cryptically, “Of course, there is something there, but not what they’re talking about.” Accounts of immense riches in the
vault were “tall stories.”"