Supreme Court lets royal family run gold-rich Kerala temple

Shrine with secrets

--The management of the temple was with the royal family of Travancore

--Even after the death of the last ruler in 1991, the state allowed his brother to helm the affairs

--But the brother claimed the temple assets belonged to the family, forcing state to move SC

--One secret underground chest, Vault B, is estimated to have over Rs 1 lakh-crore gold and other valuables

--But the royal family is against opening it on the grounds that it will invite divine wrath

Thiruvananthapuram

The erstwhile royal family of Travancore will helm Kerala's Padmanabhaswamy temple, believed to be the richest shrine in the world, with the Supreme Court ruling in its favour on Monday. The SC overruled a 2011 decision of the Kerala High Court telling the state to manage the affairs of the temple with an estimated Rs 1 lakh-crore of gold and other valuables in its treasure chest.

Allowing an appeal by members of the royal family, the apex court reversed the finding of the HC that their shebaitship over the deity had ceased to exist with the death of the last ruler of Travancore in 1991. They will survive as per custom, the court ruled.

Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said the state govt was committed to implementing the SC verdict, delivered by a bench comprising Justices UU Lalit Indu Malhotra. The HC had directed the government to open all the treasure vaults of the temple, make an inventory of the articles and showcase them in a museum for devotees and tourists. However, the opening of Vault B (Kallara), supposedly holding the most precious assets, was put on hold, following objections from the royal family that it would invite divine wrath. The court has left the decision of whether opening the secret vault or not to the discretion of the administrative and advisory committees.

Even after the death of the last ruler, the state had allowed his brother to manage the temple. A legal wrangle emerged after the brother claimed that the temple treasures belonged to the royal family. The HC ruling was the result of this dispute. With the SC settling the issue, the royal family has won back the right to manage the temple, now expected to be done through an advisory committee of members of the royal family, representatives from state and central governments.

The sprawling temple, an architectural splendour in granite, was rebuilt in its present form in the 18th century by the Travancore Royal House which had ruled southern Kerala and some adjoining parts of Tamil Nadu before integration of the princely state with the Indian Union in 1947.

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