It was after an exhausting trip down the coromandel coast in Tamil Nadu that I landed at the doors of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvanthipuram. Kerala was not on my itinerary at all. Thiruvanthipuram happened to be the closest airport to Kanyakumari where I was at the last leg of my Tamil Nadu travels. Its 87 kilometers between Kanyakumari and Thiruvanthipuram and one can do the journey in two hours flat. But this was March 2009 and the 15th general elections were around the corner. So as is their vaunt, the political parties of different hues hogged the highways with their rallies making it one turbulent four hours bus ride to Kerala’s capital.
There is nothing jaw-dropping about Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple from the outside. After having seen the magnificent temples at Madurai, Chidambaram and Thanjavur ( most notably the Brihadishwara Temple or Big Temple), Padmanabhaswamy Temple was hardly awe-inspiring. I could not have imagined at that time that this dour looking Vishnu temple could have a rupees 100,000 crore bonanza lying in its vaults. In the recent Supreme Court directed inspection the riches found were indeed mindboggling. The temple is easily the richest in the world even thought two of its secret underground cambers are yet to be opened.
The temple is built like any other South Indian temple with an elaborate Gopuram hiding the sanctum sanctorum inside. There is an unusual formality if you want to enter this temple. Men cannot enter the temple unless they go topless and don a dhoti. The idea is `legs should not be seen separately’. And of course you cannot take any photographs. I was way too fatigued from my Tamil Nadu shoot to go through this rigmarole and decided to give it a miss. I instead reveled in the museum artifacts of the adjoining Koyikkal Palace.
The wealth that some of our temples have is indeed phenomenal. It is not very surprising that such unaccounted wealth is found in temple vaults. Devotees rich and poor make regular donations to temples hoping to bribe the Gods to have some of their sins forgiven. But the immense wealth of this Kerela temple took everyone by surprise. There is a big debate on whom this money really belongs. I think this money belongs not to the temple but to the people and that’s where it should be used. After all the major chunk of the money is the tax paid by the people since the 16th century to the Kingdom of Travancore that controlled this temple. I am sure our Hindutava guys are smacking their lips and would love to build more temples out of this rich haul. But I think we have more than enough temples already. What we need are more hospitals, more schools, more good highways- the road between Kanyakumari and Trivandrum was not particularly smooth- and more money spent to protect our wildlife and forests. I am sure Lord Padmanabhaswamy will agree with me.