This article is written by Mansi Rao, a Fifth year B.A. LLB (Hons.) Student of Ideal Institute of Management and Technology (Affiliated to Guru Gobind Singh Indrapastha University), Delhi.
Great God’s will prevailed – Princess Gowri Lakshmibai of the Travancore royal family said
ABOUT THE TEMPLE AND ITS WEALTH
- The Padmanabhaswamy temple is a Hindu temple located in Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital of Kerala, India.
- The name of the city of Thiruvananthapuram in Malayalam means “The City of Lord Ananta” referring to the deity of the Padmanabhaswamy templethat is Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu is enshrined in the “Anantha Shayana “ posture , that is the eternal yogic sleep on the serpent, Shesha Naga .
- The Padmanabhaswamy Temple is one of the richest shrines in the world situated in Kerela. The treasure stored in the temple has acquired national interest to be one of the largest collections of precious metals and gems in the world today.
- The Maharaja of Travancore, Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma,( titular ) was the trustee of the temple.
- Several extant Hindu texts such as the Mahabharta , Vayu Purana Matsya Purana etc. have mentioned the temple as the GOLDEN temple as it was considered to be flowing with wealth .
- The express mention of this shrine can however be found only in the Sangam period of literature between 500 BCE & 300 CE. Many pieces of the Sangam Tamil literature and poetry refer to the temple and the city as having walls of pure gold.
- This temple is one of the 108 principal Divya desamas or Holy Abodes in Vaishnavism .
ORIGIN OF THE TEMPLE
There exist two theories for the origination of this temple firstly it was believed that PARASURAMA consecrated the idol of Sree Padmanabha in Dwapara yuga , Parasurama entrusted the administration of temple with Seven Potti families and that they were directed to do PARIPALANAM that is the protection of the temple .
Second version regarding the consecration of the main idol of the temple related to the legendary sage VILVAMANGALATHU SWAMIYAR, who resided near the Anathapuram Temple in Kasargod District . It was believed that the prayed to lord Vishnu for his Darshan i.e. his auspicious sight .
ADMINISTRATION BY THE ROYAL TRAVANCORE FAMILY
- In the first half of the 18th century, in accordance with the matrilineal customs , Anizham Thirunal , succeeded his uncle Rama Varma as king at the age of 23.
- On 17 January 1750, Anizham Thirunal surrendered the kingdom of Travancore to Padmanabha Swamy, the deity of the temple, and pledged that he and his descendants would be agents of the deity who would serve the kingdom as Padmanabha Dasa.
- Since then, the name of every Travancore king was preceded by the title Sree Padmanabha Dasa and the female members of the royal family were called Sree Padmanabha Sevinis.
- The final wishes of Anizham Thirunal at the time of his death at the age of 53 clearly set forth the historical relationship between the Maharaja and the temple: “That no deviation whatsoever should be made in regard to the dedication of the kingdom to Padmanabhaswamy and that all future territorial acquisitions should be made over to the Devaswom.
- After the death of the last Maharaja of the Royal family in relation to the question as to who has the administrative rights over the temple were raised .
- In 2007, Marthanda Varma (brother of the Maharja ) claimed that the treasures of the temple were the family property of the royals . Several suits were filed in relation to this claim and a lower court in Kerela passed an injunction against the opening of vaults of the temple and the acquiring of the treasures of the temple by the royal family.
- The Kerela HC in January 2011 passed an order that a board be constituted to manage the affairs of the temple , ruling against the royal family .
- The sole issue considered by the Kerela HC was whether the younger brother of the last Ruler of Travancore could after the death of the last ruler on 20.07.1991 claim to be the ruler of Travancore within the meaning of the term contained in Section 18(2) of the TC Act , 1950, to claim ownership , control and management of Sree Padmanabha Swany Temple.
- The court held that the status RULER is not a status that could be acquired through succession and therefore after the death of the last ruler in 1991 , there is NO ruler in the state of Travancore.
- It further held that Marthanda Varma cannot step in the shoes of the last ruler to claim the management of the temple by relying on the powers conferred under section 18(2) of the TC Act
- The Kerela governmentalso joined in and supported the claims of the petitioner against Marthanda Varma saying that he had no legal right to claim the control or management of the temple or the treasury of the temple.
- The Kerala High Court Bench of Justices CN Ramachandran Nair and K Surendra Mohan thereby ruled that the state government should take over the control of the temple fand replace the functions of the Royal Family of Travancore.
- The High Court had also directed the government to open all Kallaras (vaults) so as to make inventory of all the articles, and create a museum to exhibit all the treasures of the Temple for the public, devotees and the tourists.
- Opening up of the vaults of the PADMANABHASWAMY temple led to the discovery of treasures within the 6 vaults of the temple . Another question that came forward was that who owned the temple property and how it is to be regulated .
IS PADMANABHASWAMYTEMPLE A ROYAL PROPERTY UNDER THE ROYAL FAMILY OF TRAVANCORE ?
- No. The Temple was always recognized and trated as apublic institution which was governed by the TC Act ,1950.
- The royal family’s defence always stated that the temple’s management would vest with them for perpetuity, as per custom.
- Even the last ruler Balarama Varma had not included the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple as his personal property or dealt with it in his will.
AFTERMATHS OF THE JUDGEMENTS OF KERELA HC
- After the decision of the Kerela HC in 2011 the royal Family approached and filed a case in the Supreme Court .
- At the time the SC had also ordered the enumerating of the temple’s treasures, forming a body to administer the temple until the issuance of the verdict.
- During the hearing, neither the state government nor the royal family of Travancore had reinforced an assertion to the wealth and precious artefacts located within the temple’s vaults.
THE FINAL VERDICT – SUPREME COURT
- A two-judge Supreme Court bench made up of Justice UU Lalit and Indu Malhotra, on Monday 13th July 2020 , delivered its verdict on the management of dispute over the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple ,Thiruvanthapuram.
- The court has upheld the former royal family’s rights and their appeals to manage the temple and its treasury.
- The verdict delivered on Monday ensured that the temple and coffers will not come under government control and that the Shebaitship rights of the royal family will continue to be exerted.
- The bench also directed that the powers of the RULER OF THE TRAVANCORE under the Travancore – cochin Hindu Religious Institutions act ( TC Act ) with respect to the administration and management of the affairs of the temple should be delegated to the Administrarive Committee constituted by the court .
- The Supreme Court held that the death of Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma who had signed the Covenant, would not in any manner affect the Shebaitship of the Temple held by the royal family of Travancore and that after such death, the Shebaitship must devolve in accordance with the applicable law and custom upon his successor and that the Shebaitship Shall not fall in the favour of the state by the principle of escheat .
- The SC further ordered the constitution of a supervisory committee headed by the District judge of Thiruvananthapuram & an advisory committee headed by the Former High court judge for the daily management of the temple.
- It was further specified that all members of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple committee shall be Hindus. The work of the committee will be to decide the question relating to the unlocking Vault B( A large mysterious chamber in the temple which has remain untouched on account of lore that its opening will spell doom for whoever opens it).
WHAT IS SHEBAITSHIP?
- Shebaitship primarily entails two concepts , firstly The ministrant of the deity and its manager, and secondly relates to an office that claims certain rights.
- A shebait has no legal claim to the property, which is believed only to rest in the deity (or idol).
- A shebait is a manager of the property only in title, and as such, is entitled to custody of both, the property and the idol.
- A shebait is responsible for the management and preservation of the property, and is allowed to incur any debts towards this undertaking.