SC rules in favour of Travancore royal family in Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple case
The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the Travancore royal family has the shebait rights over the management of Thiruvananthapuram’s iconic Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. The shebait is like the trustee of a religious endowment, as per the traditions of maintaining and preserving the idol and property. The Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple is one of India’s richest temples, which draws thousands of tourists to Thiruvananthapuram annually. It’s a major fixture in South India’s religious tourism circuit.
In its verdict, the apex court said that death will not affect the rights of shebaitship of the family over the deity, and it will continue according to the custom.The SC further said that an interim committee headed by the Thiruvananthapuram district judge will be constituted to manage the affairs of the temple.
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 with the Indian Union in 1947.
The controversy over the administration and management of the historic temple — which is considered one of the richest temples in the country — had been pending in the apex court for the last nine years in the wake of charges of alleged financial irregularities.
A bench comprising Justices Uday U Lalit and Indu Malhotra had this unique question to decide if the Vault-B of the temple can remain closed.
In 2011, a team mandated by the Supreme Court opened five other vaults (kallaras). Their inventory unveiled a wealth of Rs 1 lakh crore in the form of jewellery, idols, weapons, utensils and coins. But the enigmatic legend of Vault-B kept even this expedition at bay.
The folklore is that hooded King Cobras with forked tongues — coiled and ready to strike at lightning speed — protect this chamber. This is the vault that spells doom for those who dare open it, the folklore maintained.
A book titled ‘Travancore: A guide book for the visitor’ by Emily Gilchrist Hatch had also recalled that a group of people who tried to open the vaults in 1931 had to flee for their lives when they found the place infested with cobras.
The myth was sought to be dismantled by former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Vinod Rai, who was appointed to conduct a special audit of the temple’s wealth. Rai, in his report in 2014, told the Supreme Court that Vault-B had been opened at least seven times to his knowledge since 1990.
Referring to the records and receipts maintained by the temple authorities, Rai pointed out that Vault-B was opened twice in 1990 and five times in 2002.