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Of all the Hindu temples in India, the wealthiest by far is the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. According to Guinness World Records, this temple replaced the Tirupati Temple (also in India) as the richest Hindu temple in the world in 2011. This is due to the fact that secret cellars discovered at the temple were found to contain a vast treasure of gold, silver and precious stones.
One of the Holiest Abodes of Vishnu
The Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple is located in Thiruvananthapuram, which is situated in the south-western Indian state of Kerala. The principal deity worshiped at this temple is Vishnu. According to one source, the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple is one of the 108 Divya Desams in India. These 108 temples are mentioned by the Hindu Azhvars (saints) between the 6th and 9th centuries AD as the holiest abodes of Vishnu. Therefore, the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple has been occupying an important place in the Hindu religion for a very long time.
The Story of Vishnu and the Sage Divakara
One of the origin stories surrounding the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple revolves around the sage Divakara Muni. One day, Vishnu appeared to the sage as a lovely child, which caught Divakara’s attention. When the sage requested the child to stay with him, he agreed to do so on the condition that he would be treated with respect.
If the sage failed to do so, however, he (the child) would vanish immediately. The god decided to be a nuisance, but Divakara tolerated his antics. Finally, however, the sage could no longer take it, and scolded the child. Vishnu ran away and disappeared. Before disappearing, Vishnu told the sage that should he wish to see him again, he would find him in Ananthankaadu. It was only then that Divakara realized the child’s true identity.
The Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple complex, Kerala, India (Wikimedia Commons)
Stricken by remorse, he followed the route he believed the child had taken. Foregoing food and rest in the process, the sage arrived in a wooded area near the sea coast after a few days. It was there that Divakara saw the child disappearing into a large Ilappa tree (Indian Butter Tree). The tree fell onto the ground and assumed the form of Vishnu reclining on the celestial snake Ananta. The form, however, was too huge to behold, and the sage prayed to Vishnu to shrink it, so that he could see the whole thing. The image shrank to a size three times the length of the sage’s staff, the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple was built around it. Thus, this became the idol now seen in the temple.
Vishnu idol, Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Kerala, India (Ramesh Kidangoor)
The Kingdom of Travancore and the Temple of Sree Padmanabhaswamy
Over the centuries, several important events relating to the temple were recorded. These included renovations made to the temple, a fire that almost completely destroyed the temple, and the re-construction process. One of the most important events that affected the temple, however, took place in the 18th century. In 1729, the Kingdom of Travancore was founded by Marthanda Varma. Apart from a major renovation that resulted in the present day structure of the temple, Marthanda Varma also introduced the Murajapam and Bhadra Deepam festivals. The Murajapam, which literally means the ‘continuous chanting of prayers’, is still conducted in the temple once every six years.
In 1750, the kingdom of Travancore was dedicated by Marthanda Varma to Lord Padmanabha (the form taken by Vishnu in the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple). Marthanda Varma swore that the royal family would rule the kingdom on behalf of the deity, and his descendants would serve as Padmanabha Dasa (‘Servant of Lord Padmanabha’).
Although the Kingdom of Travancore has ceased to exist, there is still a titular Maharaja of Travancore. Since 2013 this position has been held by Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma.
Secret Cellars Discovered in the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple
It was in 2011 that the temple made it to the headlines when secret underground chambers were discovered to hold an immense amount of treasure. According to local legends, the kings of Travancore had hidden their vast wealth within the stone walls and vault of the temple. It seems that the legends are true.
Golden idol of Lord Mahavishnu discovered in the vaults, Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Kerala, India (Indian Temples)
Some believe that the vaults should not be opened, and that they were protected by a curse. This is especially true of the chamber known simply as ‘Vault B’, where it is said that its treasure is guarded by cobras ready to strike anyone who dare enter. It has, however, been reported that Vault B had been opened twice in 1990 and five times in 2002. No cobras were found within the vault, but this belief also helps to contain the wealth held within. Thus, the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple maintains its status not only as an important Hindu temple, but also as the wealthiest in India.
Featured image: The Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Kerala, India (Wikimedia Commons)
Guinness World Records, 2015. Richest Hindu temple. [Online]
Available at: http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/richest-hindu-temple
Kerala Tourism, 2013. Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Thiruvananthapuram. [Online]
Available at: https://www.keralatourism.org/destination/padmanabha-swamy-temple...
Padanna, A., 2011. India: Treasure unearthed in Kerala temple. [Online]
Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-13994351
sreepadmanabhaswamytemple.org, 2010. Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple, Legend And History. [Online]
Available at: http://www.sreepadmanabhaswamytemple.org/History.htm
The Hindu, 2011. Tales that the fabulous collection in the vaults tell. [Online]
Available at: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tales-that-the-fabulous...
The Hindu, 2011. Vault B should not be opened: astrologers. [Online]
Available at: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/vault-b-should-not...
The Indian Express, 2015. Ex-CAG punctures a temple tale: No King Cobras guard the vault. [Online]
Available at: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/ex-cag-punctures...