Gems of Kerala temple hold experts in a spell

published on July 11, 2012

The gems in Vault A, first of the six secret cellars at the Sri Padmanabha Swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram holding invaluable treasures, have bound the gemologists engaged by a Supreme Court-appointed expert committee to evaluate them in a spell with their amazing shapes, shine, size, cut, variety and abundance, according to sources.

Vault A, also called the Sri Bhandara Nilavara thought to be holding over 90 percent of the gold, precious stones, artifacts, rare historical coins and other items found in the entire shrine, was opened by the expert committee and a supervisory panel, also appointed by the apex court, on Thursday for documenting and evaluating the treasures.

Gemologists are reportedly finding it extremely difficult to evaluate the gems, find out the peculiarities of the stones studded in the Sarapoli Malas (light-radiating necklaces) taken from the chamber and to document them properly, sources say. Equally amazing are the gold articles taken out from Vault A for evaluation and documentation by the expert committee.

The vault contains over 2,500 Sarapoli Malas and many stone-studded crowns making it almost impossible to count the gems stored in it. Most of these gold necklaces are said to contain the Navaratnas – the nine gems. It is also said that these gems keep their individuality and uniqueness due to their particular origin, cut, sheen and shape.

There are countless emeralds among the treasures. These peculiarities and the antique value make the process of evaluation of these gems and ornaments tough for the gemologists and other experts. Sources said that the experts could examine only four Sarapoli Malas in the first two days.

Sources said that the service of more experts would have to be called in for detailed documentation and evaluation of these ornaments and gems and the expert committee had earlier drawn up a panel for this. It is now said that a minimum of six months would be needed to complete the evaluation and documentation of the articles in Vault A.

The gems are seen mainly as fixed to the pendants of the Sarapoli Malas. There are pendants with only one gem each and those with all the Navaratnas. The experts are examining whether any stones have been lost or replaced and they are also trying to find out the mines where they had originated.

In July-August, 2011, an expert committee the Supreme Court appointed earlier had examined the vaults and came to the conclusion that they were holding treasures whose material value alone could come roughly to over Rs 100,000 crore, making the Sri Padmanabha Swamy temple the richest Hindu shrine in the world.

After this, the temple was brought under tight security with the Kerala Government deploying commandos from the Kerala Police in the premises. Controversies had arisen over the way the treasures were to be handled. While a section of the society wanted the treasures to be used for the people’s welfare, the devotees’ community wanted them to be kept in the temple itself.

There were also arguments that the treasures kept in the temple vaults should be housed in a museum so that researchers could study them. Experts and historians, however, have cautioned against quantifying the value of such a rare and antique wealth without considering their cultural and heritage value.

The magnificent granite temple complex was rebuilt in its present form in the 18th century by the Travancore Royalty who ruled southern Kerala and some adjoining parts of Tamil Nadu before the integration of the princely state into the Indian Union. The Travancore kings had dedicated the entire wealth of their kingdom to Sri Padmanabha, the deity of the temple.

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