With the Supreme Court granting the erstwhile Travancore royals traditional and customary rights over Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple, two questions that had never failed to interest the public have been as good as settled.
One, will the underground 'B' chamber of the temple, rumoured to be holding mythical treasures, be finally opened. Two, will the legendary singer K J Yesudas be allowed a glimpse of Lord Padmanabha. Now that hoary customs have the upper hand, both seem unlikely.
To open or not to open
A special audit team, led by former Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai, had in 2014 revealed that the 'B' chamber had been opened at least twice. Amicus curiae Gopal Subramaniam, in the light of Vinod Rai's findings, had submitted in the apex court that the chamber should be opened to end what he had termed “useless suspicion”.
Subramaniam, after being directed by the Supreme Court in 2017, had also held discussions with the royal family on the issue of the opening of the 'B' vault. The Vinod Rai report was used by the LDF government, too, to call for the opening of the 'B' chamber.
The former CAG, in a status report submitted to the Supreme Court on August 1, 2014, said: “Though there were reported apprehensions in opening the B Nilavara (Bharathakone Kallara), it had been opened twice in the year 1990 (on June 8 and July 9), and five times during 2002 (March 9, April 17 and 27, December 16 and 21) and silver ingots were taken out and gold vessels were deposited and subsequently taken out.”
The former royals, who strongly objected to the opening of the 'B' vault, said Rai's findings were born out of a fundamental misunderstanding of the temple's underground architecture.
"B Nilavra has a small antechamber that people might have entered. The main chamber has never been opened," the erstwhile royals argued.
Books on Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple, too, speak of the underground vault as a two-roomed one: the 'Bharathakone Kallara' and the 'Sreepandara Kallara'. The Bharathokone Kallara is the antechamber the former royals referred to, and Sreepandara Kallara the main chamber.
Rai's report, incidentally, has specified that the silver ingots were taken out of the 'Bharathakone Kallara', the antechamber.
The royals also said that a 'devaprashnam', a ritual conducted to know the Lord's mind, in 2011 had revealed that the chamber should not be opened. Some senior members had even warned of dire consequences if the 'B' chamber was opened.
Rs 2 lakh crore booty
The ‘E’ and ‘F’ chambers are opened frequently as they hold the ritual utensils. ‘C’ and ‘D’ contains gold, silver and other precious jewellery that are used during special occasions. The most exotic treasures are said to be in ‘A’ and ‘B’, both of which are said to be almost under the sanctum sanctorum. It is said that ‘A’ chamber alone holds treasure worth Rs 2 lakh crore.
An official attempt was made to enter Vault B in 2012. The examiners removed an iron grill, the first line of defence. Then, after an antechamber, there was a window secured by three locks. They removed two locks but were unable to open the third. "We could have opened it if we used a gas cutter. But we decided against it as the chamber was very near the 'sree kovil'," said former justice B S Rajan, one of the members of the inventorying committee.
Now, with the temple affairs firmly in the hands of the Travancore royals, it looks like 'B' chamber will forever remain shut.
It also appears that the temple doors will forever remain closed to singer Yesudas. The singer had, through a special messenger, submitted a signed declaration to the executive officer early in September 2017, saying that he believed in the Hindu faith, a legal prerequisite for a non-Hindu to enter Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple. It was promptly approved by the administrative committee of Sree Padmanabha Swami temple on September 18. The LDF government, too, was keen to have Yesudas at the temple.
However, Yesudas could not make it as there was reportedly a confusion about schedule. A month later, erstwhile Travancore royal family member and author Aswathi Thirunal Gowri Lakshmi Bayi remarked that Hindu temples should not be thrown open to people from all communities.
“Temples are not universities or cultural centres, they are primarily centres of worship,” she said. No one was left wondering who the target was.
Though the Supreme Court had handed over the temple administration to an executive committee, the erstwhile royal family still have considerable clout in Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple affairs.
Now with the erstwhile royals reaffirming their position after the SC order, it looks like the singer stands no chance. The erstwhile Travancore royals have always stood by a tradition that kept non-Hindus out of everything related to the temple.
Yesudas, for instance, is the only living legend who has not been invited to the prestigious Navratri festival connected to the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple. The Navratri singers are hand-picked by the former royals.