Kochi: The royal family of Travancore on Monday won a nine-year legal battle in the Supreme Court for control of the richest temple in the world, the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram.
India’s top court upheld the administrative rights of the erstwhile Travancore royal family over the temple, and asked the temporary administrative committee headed by a district judge to continue until a new governing panel with representatives of the state government and the royal family is constituted.
According to the apex court, though the temple will remain a public place of worship, the right of the royal family in its governance cannot be denied.
The Supreme Court bench, consisting of Justice U.U. Lalit and Justice Indu Malhotra, quashed a Kerala High Court order of January 31, 2011 which asked the Kerala government to take over and manage the temple.
The Kerala High Court had ruled that since the last ruling Maharajah of the princely state of Travancore, Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, died in 1991, the royal family’s rights over the temple ceased.
However, the SC observed that death of the last ruler would not affect the royal family’s rights over the temple.
A member of the royal family, Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma challenged the High Court order in the Supreme Court and obtained an interim stay of the High Court verdict in May 2011.
Mystery of Vault B
The ancient Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple hit the headlines in 2011 when a Supreme Court appointed panel took an inventory of the enormous stock of valuables like diamonds, thrones, several sacks of gold coins, gemstones and gold ornaments kept in five secret vaults near the sanctum sanctorum.g
The court appointed amicus curiae Gopal Subrahmaniam and former comptroller and auditor General Vinod Rai audited the temple assets and submitted a report to the apex court.
Massive treasures, believed to have been offered to the deity over several hundred years during the rule of the Travancore royal family were unearthed from the five vaults. The valuables are worth several trillion rupees, considering its historical value, and the temple shot to fame as the wealthiest temple on earth.
However, one of the secret chambers, Vault B was not opened as the royal family and devotees were against opening the mysterious chamber saying that it has a mystical energy and its opening would invite unexpected disasters.
But Vinod Rai in his report informed the apex court that Vault B had been opened many times since 1990 and no disasters or untoward incidents happened. As per the audit report submitted by Vinod Rai, valuables worth several crores are missing from the temple.
Later, in July 2011, the apex court kept the opening of Vault B in abeyance till further orders.
Even in today’s order, the apex court has not made any specific remarks on the opening of Vault B and the matter has been left for the administrative committee’s decision.
Royal family welcomes verdict
Members of the Travancore royal family expressed happiness over the verdict upholding their administrative rights over the temple. Aswathi Thirunal Gowri Lakshmibhai said the family wishes to express sincere gratitude to those who supported and prayed, reports regional media.
Meanwhile, the state government has also made it clear that it will abide by the SC order and won’t appeal against it....