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Sree Anantha Padmanabhaswamy temple custodian no more

Thiruvananthapuram, Dec 17 (): Sree Anantha Padmanabhaswamy Temple, located in Kerala’s capital, hit headlines in in July 2011 in international media when vast wealth in its vaults was estimated to be Rs 1 lakh crore, taking it to be the world’s richest temple.

That was the time the global and national media got glimpses of the custodian of this wealth. A frail weak man in his nineties, known as the Maharajah of erstwhile princely state Travancore.

Yesterday morning, the Maharaja breathed his last. His cremation took place in the evening with full State honours.

The last two years were the most difficult times in the life of the Maharaja of Travancore Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma. As custodian of Sree Anantha Padmanabhaswamy Temple, he according to the orders of the deity, comes in the morning at 7.30 AM in a vintage Plymouth car to pray and tell the deity of the previous day’s accounts.

The man and his family who are termed as servants of Sree Anantha Padmanabhaswamy, stood accused of looting the temple wealth. A former employee of the temple moved the High Court seeking State take-over of the Sree Anantha Padmanabhaswamy Temple due to mismanagement of the finances. The court directed a takeover. It was challenged in the Supreme Court.

The SC asked an expert panel to take an inventory of the wealth in the vaults of the Sree Anantha Padmanabhaswamy Temple. The Padmanabhaswamy Temple has six sacred vaults. Four of the vaults are opened frequently, that contain no surprises. The two vaults, denoted A and B by the court and not opened for centuries, caused great excitement.

Media frenzy followed after vault A was opened by a committee appointed by the court. Mounds of gold coins, thousands of big gold chains, jewelled crowns, gold figures of deities and other precious antiquity lay buried in broken dusty cabinets.

News on the treasure hunt hit TV screens and newspapers. Websites posted fake photos. Media put the treasure at 38 billion dollars. The misinformation, from expert analysis and suggestions for disbursal of this wealth plagued the Maharajah.

The Supreme Court rejected all estimates and made it clear that the question was about who should control the temple and not the ownership of the wealth. Royal family’s stance on Sree Anantha Padmanabhaswamy Temple’s vaults invited harsh comments from SC.

Kerala’s CPM ‘s opposition leader, VS Achutanandan wanted that the Sree Anantha Padmanabhaswamy Temple wealth belong to the people and it be used for government social welfare programs. Some wanted it to be displayed in a Louvre-like museum. Some asked for an auction, with the money going for social welfare schemes and for balancing the current account deficit. The Congress ministry decided to maintain a status quo.

Maharaja, who turned 91 in April, despite an injury in his feet, went to the temple every day. Twice a year, he walks 3 kms barefoot known as the Aarat procession. The Maharajah pays all the expenses of the temple staff put at $50,000 per month from his personal account. $70,000 per year goes toward the daily rituals and festivals.

Despite having a big support base in the capital district, neither Maharajah nor his family has shown any interest in politics. It was a pained Maharajah who passed away due to all the allegations and brickbats thrown at him for being the custodian of the Sree Anantha Padmanabhaswamy Temple.

A man who sat in his dilapidated palace and the only memory of the olden days was his use of the conch emblem, trademark of the royalty in his car number plate. Some communists wanted this too to be removed.

Whatever be the SC verdict, the Sree Anantha Padmanabhaswamy dasa will not be around to hear it or speak to BBC or TIME.

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