Padmanabha Temple treasure and British loot

published on July 4, 2011


We are rediscovering the wealth of India. And the immense beauty in which it was gathered and preserved and protected for the common good in times of trouble is truly uplifting to our tired spirits. Suddenly this seems an exciting country to live in …

But, as the Supreme Court-ordered public accounting of hitherto unknown treasures in secret chambers in Kerala’s famed Padmanabha Temple gets underway, the Sanatana Dharma, the world’s oldest and greatest living civilisation, offers unprecedented insight into the integrity, consistency, and continuity with which its ancient rulers upheld its civilisation mores and values, and harvested and preserved wealth in trust for future generations. This should serve as a lesson in humility to the Western world, where bankers in connivance with unscrupulous politicians are busy robbing the common man so that the rich can continue their profligate ways, destroying all values of civilisation the world over.

This should serve as an antidote to the arrogance of the Marxist and anti-Hindu parvenus that Nehruvian Stalinism imposed upon the nation as ‘intellectuals’ as part of its determined quest to deconstruct Hindu Dharma as the nation’s foundational ethos and engineer a rootless, culture-less entity that could satisfy the arid intellect of the country’s first prime minister. We may call this the quest for what a former Polish communist writer designates as Homo sovieticus, a soulless denudation of all the values of a nation and nullification of all its glories and triumphs.

The Hindu king was a critical pillar of Hindu Dharma, its mainstay and defender. Is it any wonder that independent [Nehruvian] India’s intellectuals – funded and feted by the State to the exclusion of all other thinkers – never found merit in any of our erstwhile rulers, even when the kingdoms that they managed to hold on to during the British Raj where in so many respects superior in administration to the Crown-ruled provinces, and the subjects happier?
As we see in the case of the Padmanabha Temple, even though the Travancore royal family had lost political power, the ruler remained the official king of the Padmanabha Temple, which is deeply revered by the people of the region. And when the king and his successor kings feared that the loss of political power could translate into the loss of economic control over the immense wealth of the kingdom to the British who had come only to plunder and loot the nation, they swiftly and wisely transferred huge parts of the royal treasury into secret chambers in the Padmanabha Temple, whose priests then served as guardians of this public treasure. To their credit, they have upheld this trust. Mind you, the wealth thus hidden by the king would have been the kingdom’s surplus after paying the handsome tributes extracted by the British Crown!

In one royal stroke, the new-found wealth in the abode of Sri Padmanabha shatters the myth assiduously nurtured and propagated by Christian missionaries and their Western Christian mentors that India is and has ever been a poor country. Were that true, the White Man would have taken his rapacious presence elsewhere. When a small princely state could accumulate so much wealth – that too, on the basis of an agricultural economy, mind you – even after 150 years of British loot, then how much wealth would we have had in the original? It is a question worth pondering over.

A related issue that rises in my mind is that the missionaries always cite the “poverty of India” as their justification for conversion. This stands exposed. And as the assets of the Christian missionaries are products of the loot of India by the British colonial regime (and the continuing neo-colonial world order), we may safely say that the wealth of missionaries rightfully belongs to Hindus.

The gold and precious jewels now being unearthed from underground chambers of the Padmanabha Temple have conservatively been estimated at around Rs one lakh crore; their antique value will take much more time to evaluate. The temple is privately owned by the royal family of Travancore, just one of the small Princely states of India.

The question naturally arises – if this is just a portion of the wealth of one small, albeit immensely wealthy, state, what would be the true estimate of how much the British Raj had looted India? At independence there were more than 500 princely states, with some major kingdoms like Mysore, Jaipur, Gwalior, Jodhpur, and so on.

So when small princely states like Travancore had so much of wealth, how much would the British looted from all other princely states, and the regions they governed directly under what they called British India? If we assume that on an average, 1/10th of this treasure (10,000 crore) was possessed by each of the 500 small princely states, it comes around 500 x 10,000 crore = 50,00,000 crore. This is just as per current market value of the valuables; the antique value is unlimited. The temple jewels fall under the category of antiques, and hence the values are far, far higher.

In 1857, the British destroyed innumerable rajyams and took over their treasuries. The estimate of this loot is beyond comprehension, and is not included in this article. What we may do well to remember, however, is that the British created a class of civil servants whose main responsibility was to extract revenue from our thriving agriculture (hence, Collectors), and levy tax on everything else they could think of, like the humble salt. So the loot from British India would closely parallel the loot from Princely India.

Some pertinent questions arise:

– The temple is under the control of the Travancore royal family. It would prima facie seem that the treasure found in the temple belongs to them. If the Government of India forcefully acquires these treasures, what is the difference between colonial loot and the present government loot?

– Or did the royal family transfer the wealth considering it as state wealth, a trust held on behalf of the subjects as it derived from the tax revenues of the subjects?

– Was there a clear distinction between the royal treasury as an institution of the kingdom and the personal property of the ruler? Did members of the royal family derive specific monthly or annual incomes from the treasury, which could be called their personal money? (I recall that in the larger princely kingdoms, certain articles of jewellery were the private property of the royal queens and princesses; but large quantities of very precious jewellery were not assigned to individuals, but held in the treasury separately. The reigning king’s spouse could select items to wear by signing a register, and these had to be scrupulously returned to the treasury thereafter).

– Then, who is Sunderrajan who has filed a petition before Supreme Court seeking Government takeover of the wealth. This seems malicious, and it would be interesting to know the religious denomination and locus standi of the petitioner, and the motives behind filing the petition.

– Given the fact that the wealth has resided for over a century in the safe possession and custody of the Padmanabha Temple, should not this wealth now be considered the legitimate possession of the Temple?

– Can we protect this wealth as owned by the temple but belonging to the people of state and indeed the entire nation by declaring that it cannot be sold under any circumstances?

– Can we use it to generate wealth for the Hindu people to whom it ultimately belongs by housing it in a special ultra-safe museum and earning income from the proceeds of the display?
– Can we ensure that the wealth is not misused to benefit non-Hindu communities with the agenda to destroy the Hindu nation and its religion, culture and customs?

– The petitioner before the Supreme Court has alleged that the temple management is not proper. I think the irony today is that the Government and the Judiciary are scam-ridden and tainted with corruption. What makes them better custodians of wealth that they did not even know existed? Historically, we have always found that native Indian kings governed their region more efficiently than any colonial or national government.

– Padmanabha Temple presents a perfect case study to judge who is the rightful owner of a temple. Sri Padmanabha Swamy Temple belongs to the royal family, and it is they who have been maintaining this rajya temple for generations. It is they who decide whom to allow and whom NOT allow inside the temple. The temple is NOT public property. The public can worship there, but cannot claim any rights over it.

– It must be clarified here that a temple is NOT like a church. While a church is a place of gathering for worship [the Christian god lives in heaven], a temple is the residence of the God Himself; hence the sanctity of the temple has to be maintained. Neither Government nor courts have any business to meddle in its affairs.

In non-monotheist cultures, the king is the protector of dharma. Kings always governed our country far, far better than the rest of the world. As distinct from western culture, the king is subservient to the presiding deity of the kingdom, as we find at places like Puri and also the Padmanabha Temple. The Travancore kings calls themselves Padmanabha dasa (Servant of Padmanabha). When they commit wrong, the presiding deity will restore dharma. Thus, they are not absolute monarchs, nor dictators of the kind we commonly find in the West. This is true of most Indian kings; we find instances of such rajya temples in all desams. Modern Indian intellectuals need to understand that there is no dharma without a king.

Unlike the modern westernised urban ghettos (which we call towns, cities, metros) the temple is the centre of our bharatiya nagaras, around which the nagara is designed and built. I do not know the old architecture of the city of Tiruvananthapuram, or even the history of the Padmanabha Temple, but the whole city was administered and regulated by the royal family before independence and Tiruvananthapuram seems to be a planned city. The present colonial Indian Government seized control from them after independence, and left the city to degrade itself. This is how our culture and our religion had declined, which Hindu (Marxist and fellow travellers) intellectuals are refusing to understand.

I strongly feel that the temple jewels should remain in the custody of the royal family and the royal temple. The wealth it generates must be used as per dharma. This means that Hindu temple wealth cannot be used to finance Hajj or repair churches, as in Karnataka. Any effort to seize the temple by the government must be strongly resisted.

We may recall that Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy and Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa have in the past publicly accused Congress president Sonia Gandhi of stealing antiques from India. The present move in the Supreme Court appears to be a grim conspiracy to steal the assets of Padmanabha Perumal. His devotees must resist with all their might.


– The findings reported so far include gold coins dating back thousands of years; gold necklaces nine feet long and weighing about 2.5 kg each; one tonne of the yellow metal in the shape of rice trinkets; sticks made of the yellow metal; sack full of diamonds; gold ropes; thousands of pieces of antique jewellery studded with diamonds and emeralds; crowns and other precious stones in chamber ‘A’.
– 17 kgs of gold coins dating back to the East India Company period; 18 coins from Napolean’s era; precious stones wrapped in silk bundles; over 1,000 kg of gold in the form of coins and trinkets and a small elephant made of the yellow metal.
– Sovereigns bearing the 1772 seal indicating the reign of then native king Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma.
– With chamber ‘B’ and ‘E’ yet to be opened, the shrine would pip Tirupati Balaji, assessed at over Rs 50,000 crore.

(Senthil is a software professional engaged in grassroots study of native traditions in the south)

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