Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Travancore Treasure - squeezed out of the blood of the common people.

There has recently been an enormous hullaballoo about the treasure found in the 'secret' vaults of the Padmanabhaswamy temple in the erstwhile state of Travancore in modern Kerala.

The 5 vaults that have been opened (the sixth designated 'B' has been kept closed due to its accursed nature!) have yielded a treasure comprising mainly of gold coins, gold chains, gold statuary and associated jewellery and gemstones. Much to the surprise of the country the treasure has been primarily evaluated at Rs 1 Lac Crores (Rs 1,00,00,000 X 1,00,00,000) 10 trillion rupees ... that's approx US$ 222,222,222 .... yes 222 billion dollars!! The Tirupathi Balaji temple has been left behind trailing in the dust with a mere 95 billion US$. 

The immediate fallout was that the people of India, especially those leaning towards the right, appeared very concerned about the future of this enormous wealth. As an archaeologist I was most interested in the Napoleanic coins reported from there as well as the impressive gold sculptures like the image of Padmanabhaswamy shown by the media. To me this wealth is automatically the wealth of the state of Kerala and it's people and the wealth of the country, the archaeological, art historical and numismatic treasures are the treasures of the nation and should immediately be catalogued and put on display in a Museum befitting the find. But this was not the general consensus. The general consensus was that this was the wealth of the temple and had been donated to the said temple by it's devotees and was therefore under the rightful ownership of the presiding diety and his to do so as he pleased! This was akin to giving the prophet Mohammed the ownership of the Kaaba and all the mosques and giving the ownership of the cathedrals and churches (and their contents) in Rome to Jesus Christ.

The general fear seemed to be that the 'corrupt' government machinery would pounce upon these treasures and not only deprive the Lord but use it to line their greedy pockets. There were quick clarifications to the contrary by the Chief Minister of Kerala and the office of the Prime Minister. This was the accumulate wealth of Lord Padmanabhaswamy and would remain in the temples possession, adequate security at Govt. expense would be provided by the temple.

We now come to the main reason for this post. As usual no one bothered to check with any historians or archaeologists about the antecedents of the treasure and the Travancore ruling dynasty. Neither did anyone bother to think as to how this enormous treasure could have remained a secret all this time.

Whilst the complete extent of the treasure was not known or computed prior to the last month - that it existed was a well known if not widely touted fact.

The history of the treasure dates back to the 15th and 16th c AD when the Travancore region was controlled through the temple by a league of eight and a half votes (ettara yogam) - seven Potti brahmanas, one Nair and half a vote for the King of Travancore. The region was further divided into 8 Nair controlled territories whose power soon rivaled the King (Marthanda Varma). 

The King  a was forced to run away and made a quick getaway to the neighbouring state. He returned with new army and defeated and killed all the eight Nair lords, he then put down a series of rebellions and civil wars. Realising that the monies collected as fines from the Nairs and their families and their back breaking punitive taxes (which were inturn paid by the commoners) were in danger of being looted Marthanda Varma played an amazing hand, he handed over the throne of Travancore to Padmanabhaswamy (the reclining for of Lord Vishnu) in an abdication ceremony called the tripadidanam, declared himself Padmanabhadasa (servant of Padmanabha), and promptly transferred the treasury to the temple. Thus ensuring it's safety by according it divine protection. 

The taxes of the period were upwards of 50% of the crops and everything was taxed, birth, death, marriage and even the right to breastfeed. Yes the Travancore state was probably the only known medieval state where mothers had to pay a Breast-Tax (mulakaram) so as to officially breastfeed their babies. It was this money from taxes levied on the common people that ended up in the vaults of the Padmanabhaswamy temple.  A loot of the people tainted by faith, fear, death and conquest. All atoned for by giving it into the safekeeping of the Lord.

Thus as is amply evident this is the money squeezed out of the Keralite people by a medieval despot. Let it be used for the people. The bullion should be systematically sold and the art and archaeological treasures should be put on permanent display alongside a litany of the events that made this hoard possible.

Additional Links (Posted on 12th July 9pm IST)
DNA Sunday 10th July
The Open Magazine 9th July

Additional Link (Posted on 17th September 11pm IST)
The Looting of the treasure has a long tradition.


  1. quite interesting post..and i absolutely support yr viewpoint..yes indeed, the priceless art and archaeological treasures should be put on permanent display while the bullion be sold off and made for public social services..

  2. Wonderful post. It is the most informative post on this issue. And yes what a tragic story, no one talks of the people who paid for this gold.

  3. Nice post very informative. Got astonished to know that one Medieval king from a small land hoarded that much of money in the temple.

    Sad to know the background story as well. A grand mueseum has to be made documeting the complete facts of the story and display statues and historical items

  4. There is always a knee jerk reaction followed by apathy. No one really bothers to go back to these revelation and does any back story on the same.

    neither is there any reckoning as to the actual worth/catalogueing of the entire corpus. Here's hoping this time will be different.

  5. Very informative post. And my only contrarian point to it is that, almost all rulers has been despots and tyrants in their own ways. Were we to use the yardstick that a horde tainted by "faith, fear, death and conquest" be done away with; then all vaults of the British and the small princely states across need will need to be liquidated.

    Also, you talk about the evilry of one king Marthananda Verma, was he an exception or the rule? We have to at least give credit to his descedants, who did not touch the wealth, which could have been frittered away like it was done in the other princely states. Also, the fact that Travancore, was also the center of trade in south could have contributed vastly to the horde.

    Finally, I whatever is found in the temple should be put on display in a musuem built by the custodian itself. Considering, that the treasure has remained safe for so many centuries, and not to forget that gems from Nizam's collection are getting lost all the time, the state should have no role to play in it.

  6. Hmmm .... Marthanda Varma was not exclusive but he sure was on the managing committee of despotry. and i fully agree that all the treasuries accumulated by force, prejudice, fear, usury and death should be retrieved by the state ... personally I feel all the 'great temples' need to start off by giving the state 80% of their gains ... 80% of the monies controlled by Travancore, Tirupati, Shrinathji, Puttaparthi, Puri, Kanchi, Varanasi and Meenakshi would amount to a little over 3 trillion US$ ... it would perhaps wipe out all our national debt and help us make education, and quality education at that, available to the entire nation within 5 years

  7. But aren't we judging Marthanda Varma using the prism of today's liberal democracy. The alternative would have been the same or worse in that period. The history of the neighbouring Malabar rulers were equally bloody till they unified the region by crushing the other minor kings and then of course Vasco Da Gama came and upset the equation. Travancore dynasty in fact has better reformist credentials and more enlightened policies as compared to other princely states of India. The hoard comes from taxes but it is possible it was state (or the king's) reserves (a little like RBI's gold reserves). Putting it to use to settle government debt or public amenities is a good idea but it will have interesting fallouts. Like the price of gold on which the hoard is said to be so valued. When it enters the market, the value will automatically fall by virtue of it entering the market. My grandfather is from the Malabar Samoothri lineage and my mother was telling me how gold prices fell when the Kovilakams split their property among its members 50 years back :)

  8. Ignorance is bliss.

  9. Well, when you are stealing from some other online column at least do a
    fact check. Breast tax is not for breast feeding, it is for covering breasts, a privilege in those days. It is in records because it was abolished by a king. And you would be crazy to think that collecting taxes was reason for that much wealth. Seriously, you really think so? Don't you know about the spice trade with Arabs and Europeans that Kerala kingdoms did during that era? Also, even if it is taxes, the kings have the right to take it from treasury and give to the Temple (It is not democracy). Once it is given to temple, it is temple money.

    You are one of those typical 'secular' morons who vouch for using temple money and then run for dear life when we ask for same treatment Wakf/Church money, why do you have different rule for different religions? You mentioned a handful of temples, not one church/mosque, why? If we treat all religious establishments equally, there will be more acceptance to taking the money out the Travancore temple, trust me. Do you guys have the balls to go and tell the Wakf guys to let go their enormous amount of land?

    Until we do that, it is temple money. Get over it, you have no say in how it going to be used, if it is used. No need to lose sleep over this.

  10. I agree with Abilash; your post is mere nonsense;

    Manjunaath (mt-radiance.blogspot)

  11. What a foolish post!
    Look man! this whole wealth could have been taken away from temple by Royal Family and put at their personal Swiss Bank accounts.
    We must be grateful that they haven't done it and even now they are disclaiming ownership of wealth.
    Again your point on punitive tax is just your imagination.
    Travancore was the kingdom which gave Education to girls, they set up English medium schools which are still running, they set up the first University in Kerala which is now called Kerala University, they build the University College in Trivandrum.
    Your points are just bunkum and figment of creepy imagination and showing fake secularism.

  12. @ Madhavan
    thank u for your reply. I am not judging Marthanda Varma or the rest of the Varmans ... I am infact quite tickled by the way in which he absolved himself and his descendants of the crimes committed by them and the imaginative manner in which he protected his treasury.
    My criticisms are for the Kerala CM and the PMO in their efforts at appeasement and thereby the denial of the very people whose wealth this is.

    @ the anonymous commentators
    anonymous cowards dont deserve any attention.

    1. please specify the online column ... to the best of my knowledge the only other voice raised in this direction is the Sunday DNA dt 10th July 2011
    2. I suppose u think the king grew those spices in his backyard with his own 2 hands during his leisure?
    3. Scared of secularism huh?? That's ok most communalists are. I see u are a Hindu Communalist and have obviously seen my detailed imaginary post exempting the wakf and other religious charities???
    4. Calling someone a moron only exposes your ignorance do do a little research my friend.
    5. The Travancore breast tax was a Breast-feeding tax please check local records it was the cause of a major peasant rebellion in the region.
    6. Why are u so scared to ask the wakf board for their land?
    7. This post is about the Padmanabhaswamy Temple and its hoard not about it's land ... or are u scared the big bad bogeyman will turn to it's lands next??
    8.Please check the Indian contitution I have the right to say what should be done ... go on check it dont be scared now.

    @ manjunath (mt-radiance.blogspot)
    fear, cowardice or lack of data ... which of the 3 led you to your inconclusive comment

    @ anu
    u are entitled to your opinion but methinks carting tonnes of gold to a swiss bank through customs is a bit impossible
    as to my comment on punitive taxes all you have to do is check any history text book on Marthanda Varma ... Left, Right, Secular, Foreign, Keralite, Govt Sponsored or even the BVB volumes.
    please read the post and then re-read it if you didnt get my point ... do a simple thing check Marthanda Varma's dates and the dates when the reforms, women's ed, collegese etc were bulit .. u'll have your answers.
    facts my friend are fact ... my imagination and secularism have nothing to do with them
    I just feel sorry at your lack of argumentativeness and the cheap resort to my imagination and secular credentials ... Himmat hai to historical quotations deke dekh ...

  13. @ Madhavan
    u are absolutely right about the Gold prices being severely upset ... methinks the state could get around that by sytematically and periodically releasing Gold at predetermined timings linked both to necessity and to the international bullion markets.

  14. 1. Dude, do read malayalam? If not, then I am sure your knowledge from the propaganda magazine that you read, whichever that is. I have read that in DNA column that it is breast feeding tax, someone's figment of imagination. Do you mind where you got the Breast tax info from? Breast tax is for covering the breast btw.

    2. King owns the land. So when you say Shah Jahan built Taj Mahal, you mean he did masonry himself?

    3. Scared of your brand of secularism, conveniently ignoring other religions.

    4. Same to you. Especially when you argue with a Malayalee about what happened in Kerala.

    5. See #1.

    6. Thats the question I asked you. You mentioned all temples, not a single Mosque, scared of hand chopping? (that refers an incident in Kerala btw)

    7. If it is *only* about padmanabhaswamy, why did you mention other temples in a comment above? And no mosque/church?

    8. Please check english grammar, If I say "you have no say in something" it means you cannot influence it, if does not mean you cannot express opinion. It means your opinion would be a waste. Thats all. God, i am teaching English here. Sigh!

  15. What's really amusing is how no one wants this 100000 crore. We did a piece in our magazine on it:

    The government is petrified of losing Hindu votes by taking the gold. The king says he doesn't want it, possibly because he cant have it. As usual the politician's solution is to not do anything and hope the problem will go away. Or wait for the Supreme Court to give some direction

  16. @ madhavan
    i know weird isn't it. it's such a bizarre situation that to take it is branding oneself anti-hindu, anti-keralite, anti-god ... not taking it and being anti-nation and anti-indian (welfare) on the other hand appears to be absolutely ok!

    the supreme court for some reason that i cannot fathom agreed to keep vault B shut due to the curse and other(?) fears!!

    quo vadis india??

  17. @Kurush,

    The wealth belongs to Padmanabh Swamy. In Indian jurisprudence, a deity is treated as owner of the temple. The temple is "house" of deity. Deity can possess wealth and property. The land owned by Wakf and Church can be disputed too, but since that would be off-topic, won't comment on that.

    The royal family has preserved the wealth of Padmanabh Swamy as his "steward" (the title of travancore raja is "Padmanabh daasa"). So the very idea of government acquiring wealth is that of theft.

    It is private property and idea of displaying one's private in museum is both appalling and offensive. If the deity agrees, then it is fine. and even then, the wealth belongs to deity and Vishnu alone has the legal rights to use "his" wealth in way "He" likes.

    Rest is intellectual hot air.

  18. @ kal-chiron
    u r mixing faith with fact
    the 'diety' is incapable of either speaking in favour or against.
    Padmanabaha-dasa should have by law given up his rights with the removal of the Privy purse ... he contravened the law when he didn't. u may check the relevant legal aspects, i have.
    the 'diety' is not a private diety ... thus his property isnt either ... consider the gifts as the gifts given to a US sitting President or sitting UK Primeminisster ... they are the property of his office and the exchequer.

  19. @ Abhilash
    1. u may refer to the DNA article last sunday, The Open Magazine article dt 9th July ( and the works of eminent historian Shreedhara Menon (also quoted in the open magazine article)
    in modern india one doesn't have to know Malayalam to know Keralite history ... don't be communal and parochial ... it's extremely childish.
    2. you seem extremely shaky about your brand of Hindu extremism and communalism by attempting to target other religions and to raise the religion bogey to deflect attention from the problem at hand
    3. "Same to you. Especially when you argue with a Malayalee about what happened in Kerala." ... tsk tsk how sad and extremely petulant u sound.
    4. regarding the 'breast-feeding' tax please see Shreedhara Menon's work.
    5. I mentioned Temples since I was comparing Temples and their accumulated wealth ... contrary to your beliefs there is no single mention of a Mosque with tons of gold in vaults, on the other hand Churches have often stored numerous items of wealth in their vaults ... Church wealth is a common source of international complaint.
    6. are u threatening me with the hand chopping reference?

  20. And if you have problems with tax system prevalent in travancore state in any time and era, there is nothing you can do about it. Calling a government despot for collecting 50% can be a personal opinion. As a matter of fact, everyone all over the world calls their governments despots. One can have opinion on taxation and what percentage of tax is "allowed". In Scandinavian countries, people are happy with 70% tax. But the ownership of the wealth was transferred legally.

    And talking about nature of taxes, we have had beard tax, urine tax, wig tax. They have entertainment tax in Nordic countries for owning any electronic gadget. And all these have been by rulers from nations which our "academia" refers to as civilized countries. A king has legal right to tax his subjects. Do you have any data on the public discontent in travancore kingdom against breast-feeding tax? You belong to different space and time. While you are entailed to have an opinion and I respect that right of yours, I would vehemantly oppose your suggestion and this post of yours.

    You may call me "right-winger" for opposing this idea, but then I would be forced to equate this with tendency of likes of "diggi raja" of equating everyone who opposes him as "RSS agent".

    Shubham astu..

  21. 1. I can debunk your theory that "in modern india one doesn't have to know Malayalam to know Keralite history" by point 1 alone. Shahina who wrote in open quotes a malayalam blog (how convenient, quouting a blogger instead of history book directly). The blog is well known already (see it here Worst part for Shahina, it does NOT say about breast feeding tax. Lost in translation perhaps? I would like to have a link to "eminent historian Shreedhara Menon"

    2. And don't throw the communalism bogey, it is getting boring. All I am asking is equal treatment, which you are refusing to give. I am asking again, you did not refer to any mosque/church? If ALl religious institutions must give their wealth, I am perfectly ok with taking the wealth of padmanabhaswamy temple.

    3. You understand real history? Not propaganda articles!


    5. Are you willing to accept if govt takes over wealth of mosques &
    churches in India? Why do you have different rules for different religions?

    6. Dude don't act like you did not understand the question - I asked you whether you are afraid of challenging mosques/churches and whether you are afraid of the severe backlash?

  22. @ abhilash
    Re Shreedhara Menon the below link is perhaps a good place to start off -

  23. Taking over the wealth of just one religion is like opening a pandora's box.


    "The Catholic Church in India owns the largest chunk of non-agricultural land, and is known as the second largest employer after the Government of India.".

    "Some Catholics feel the bishops are not the right people to handle properties worth several lakh crores. But so far, the government has kept quite on the row."


    I'm fine if the government takes over all the religious places and their associated wealth. Think about the church properties in prime areas of Indian cities. They are mostly donated / gifted by the Brits.

  24. Mr dalal..coming from you only makes me smile ..

    you know what ur protestations seem more like a vegetarian crying hoarse about a non vegetarian like u eating almost everything under the sun which once used to breathe..n calling cruel etc etc.

    get over this preoccupation to label n seeing things through this is "Hindu communal mindset"..

    u vl then have a better understanding of facts..

    Till then happy blogging

  25. To all the warring parties in the preceding posts and comments, I don't give a damn whether the treasure belongs to Lord Padmanabhaswamy or in the case of the Wakf board or chruches to their so called presiding "diety"! Simple thing is that 222 billion dollars is a lot of money that will not do any good sitting in a vault managed by a temple trust or government that is not interested in doing anything for the common man. Use the wealth to pay off our IMF and other World Bank debts, so that at least future budgets can allocate more funds for education, health and providing basic needs in the rural areas.

  26. Really nice Information.For more details for Treasure Temple in India go to

  27. Logic and Religion are antonyms.