The gateway to a grand past, a fine example of the exquisite Dravidian style, blended with traditional Kerala style architecture, dazzling features, an enormous amount of treasures hidden inside its vaults, is the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, situated in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala in Southern India.
The temple is one of the 108 principal Divya Desams (holy abodes) in Vaishnavism. Sacred Hindu texts like Brahma Purana, Skanda Purana, Bhagavata Purana, and Mahabharata mention this shrine. This temple has reference in the only recorded Sangam period of literature between 500 BCE and 300 CE several times. It is believed that Parasurama consecrated the idol of Sree Padmanabha Swamy in Dwapara Yuga and directed King Adithya Vikrama and 8 other authorities to protect and manage the temple.
This temple is spearheaded by the Travancore Royal Family, where, the powerful Travancore Raja Mathanda Varma, during his reign in 1731, built this magnificent temple. The descendants of the royal dynasty have since pledged that they would be the vassals or agents and serve as Padmanabha Dasa.
Going well beyond the fine aesthetics, the tower of Padmanabha Swamy temple – main gopuram or the temple tower, rises to over 100ft with ornate sculptures, having 7 tiers with a pair of window-like openings on its opposite sides, is a testimony to architectural brilliance and scientific knowledge of the sculptors who built this beautiful edifice 3 centuries ago.
The unique tower, so designed, that on the exact 2 days of Equinox (March 21, September 23), one gets to see the setting of the sun aligned and passing exactly through these windows in roughly 5 minutes intervals. To make this alignment happen, the gopuram had to be constructed at right angles to the exact east-west line, a feat requiring precision engineering with the much earlier constructed sanctum sanctorum too, aligned in this way.
Inside the temple are the 365 and ¼ granite pillars representing each day of the year. The massive idol of the deity is in the reclining position of Lord Vishnu, which is 18ft in length, is covered with precious jewels and stones, where the 3 different parts of Lord Vishnu – the face, the navel area, and the lotus feet are visible through 3 different doors.
In 2009, the temple came under immense scrutiny and unnecessary limelight, when a spate of legal suits was filed against the royal family over its rights and authority on the control and management of the temple. In 2011, the High Court of Kerala passed a verdict against the Travancore Royals owing to the abolition of Privy Purses of royal titles and Privileges Act of 1971 and declared that the control of the assets and management of the temple be handed over to the state government and all the vaults holding vast amounts of deity’s treasures be opened, every article be inventoried, put on public display in a museum inside the temple for a fee.
The Travancore Royal Family approached the Supreme Court and got a stay on the verdict, but a committee was constituted to manage and govern the temple assets and administration till the pending disposal of the entire matter was heard and resolved, at the apex court.
When the secret vaults were opened, the valuables that were found was of unimaginable wealth, with all their decadence and gold-plated glory, treasure findings were estimated to be over $ 1 trillion. This revelation has solidified the status of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple as the wealthiest place in the world.
On 13th July 2020, the Supreme Court passed the judgment in favor of the Royal family of Travancore and reinstated all their rights and authority over the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, establishing the fact that the temple is etched and rooted in Hindu tradition and the royal family cannot be severed from its centuries-old tradition and history.
This judgment is a shot in the arm for the Hindu community.