Indian Express Ė 7 July 2011

Padmanabhadasas and political class





By S. Guru Murthy

The wealth of Lord Padmanabhaswamy, kept unbelievably safe, so far counted is estimated at Rs1 lakh crore. The committee appointed by the Supreme Court has till July 2 so far opened five of the six closed chambers in the temple and inventoried the contents leaving one yet to be unsealed. Here is the brief history of the Lordís wealth and its significance.

In 1750, King MarthandaVarma, the most powerful of the Travancore rulers, pledged that he and his descendents would serve the kingdom as servants of Lord Padmanabha (ĎPadamanabhaDasaí) the Lord being the King. The British had observed the tradition and honoured the Lord with a 21-gun salute.

When the Indian states were merged, independent India appointed the Travancore royal head as the Raj Pramukh; but he preferred to be known as PadmanabhaDasa, not as Raj Pramukh.

The government had continued to honour the tradition of gun salute to the Lord till 1970 when, along with the abolition of princely titles, the honour to the Lord was withdrawn! Yet, even today Lord Padmanabha is regarded as the deity of Travancore. To cut a long story short, the Travancore royalty was the servant-

trustee of the Lord. M G Gopalakrishnan, a historian of Kerala, says that Tipu Sultan, who had invaded Malabar and destroyed many temples, had conquered Thrissur in 1789 and made it his headquarters, posing a threat to Travancore.

This seems to have persuaded Dharma Raja, the then king of Travancore royalty to bury and seal the wealth of the Lord in secret chambers to keep it beyond the reach of the invader. But, in 1790, Tipu withdrew from Thrissur when the British raided Mysore, de-risking Travancore from invasion. Still Dharma Raja and his successors opted to keep the Lordís treasure buried, safe from risk of loot.

This is how Justice C S Rajan, member of the committee to inventory the treasure, describes the Lordís treasure which speaks for itself: "The secret cells were like a dream world, unbelievable and unexplainable. Huge stones, which a team of eight strong men had to struggle to remove, had been placed well to conceal the cells. The cells were small. They could accommodate only four-five persons. The invaluable treasure - gold, gems, stones - offered to the deity by the Travancore royalty, from time to time had been kept in teakwood boxes stacked one over the other. Whenever the kings or their friends or other kings had darshan of the Lord, they used to offer gold coins; one lakh such coins have been found. It is all temple property".

The Justice is only saying the obvious, as does M G S Narayanan, the historian. And this is precisely what the Indian Treasure Trove Act says, under which only unclaimed wealth discovered is declared as state property. Here the Lord, a juridical person under the law, is the owner of the wealth.

What has been missed in the discourse on the Lordís wealth hijacked by hype and excitement is that even when the Travancore royals were in danger of losing their kingdom, they never thought of touching the Lordís wealth. When Tipu was driving down southwards, the kingdom itself was at risk. And yet, the royalty had continued to keep it buried so that it ever remained the wealth of the Lord; it did not unseal it even after the danger had diminished. This shows the unmatched height of honesty and integrity of the trustees, the royal family.

Had any one of the several successors in the royal family been less than absolutely honest, the whole or part of the Lordís wealth would have moved from the secret chambers to their personal chambers. Nothing of that sort happened for 158 years from 1789 to 1947. In 1947, when the Indian states merged into the Indian Union, the Travancore royalty totally lost its power and wealth. And yet the wealth of the Lord hidden by Dharma Raja remained touched.

Thanks to such high character and morals in the Travancore royalty, the wealth of the Lord remains intact. The nation should be grateful to the successive members of the Travancore royalty for maintaining such high standards of morality and trusteeship. But with the media hyping the Lordís wealth wrongly as the treasure trove, some, whose right thinking seems to have left them, even began saying that it should be taken over by the state, and kept in exhibition!

And more. If the Padmanabhaswamy wealth was global news, the 98 kg of gold and `11.5 crore brought to account by the trustees in SatyaSai Babaís ashram in Puttaparthi earlier had made national headlines. The trustees of the SatyaSai

Trusts ensured that the gold and the cash were inventoried in the presence of respectable witnesses - former judges of courts - and deposited in banks.

Had any of them - or any one else in the ashram - been less than honest, would they have deposited the gold or the cash in bank? If they had removed any part of the cash or gold, no one would have come to notice it. In spite of gold worth over Rs 70 crore and cash of Rs 11.5 crore having been duly deposited, the media went hysterical - and some continue to make noise - in respect of a comparatively small amount Rs 35 lakh (some 2 per cent of the cash and gold deposited) seized by the police from a contractor to whom it is claimed to have been paid by devotees for constructing the samadhi of Sai Baba.

While why there should have been un-deposited gold or cash could be a genuine question for the trustees to answer, the trustees certainly deserved a word of compliment for having brought to account the gold and cash offered to Sai Baba when he was alive.

PS: It cannot end without an inevitable question. Can the political class today lay claim to the kind of honesty that the PadmanabhaDasas and the Baba trustees have shown?