Treasure [Witch] hunt at Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple

The great hunt is on and each day crores of value worth antiques are unraveled from the hidden chests and dark chambers of the great Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple. Its really mesmerizing to read all about the treasure and its hidden coffers in such an ancient monument and engineering marvel.

South Indian temples really fascinate me, its grandiose structure and innate work and fine grained artistry really entices me. These temple just shows the passion of people who conceived this structures and passion of people who worked for them to make it as they are – a resilient structures which can withstand 1000 years of time and tide.

Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple is relatively a young temple compared to great Chola or Pallava monuments in Tamil Nadu. The great temples in Tanjore, Chidambaram, Gangai Konda Cholavaram, Kumbakonam really bowl me over when I stand before them like a kid with eyes and mouth wide open.

Its really no surprise that so much of treasure is hidden beneath the stone structure of Padmanabha Swamy temple. In fact each and every ancient temple in South India surely would have had such secret treasure troves, but alas now everything is lost because either being looted by British or invading Muslim Kings and if they have survived those stooges our own people might have siphoned off them. The crux is we Indians don’t take pride in such structures nor do we care about these marvels. Many people loathe going to temple for various reason – being an atheist or aversion to crowd or laziness to travel and many other silly reasons. No wonder in Chidambaram you see lot foreigners with cameras than Indians with camera. They are fascinated by them than us.

Coming to this unraveling story of treasures in Padmanabha Swamy Temple – what will happen to them? Now that secret is out in the open vested interests in different quarters may be frothing in their mouth to take control of temple or to seize a nickel out of it and keep it in their showcase or worse siphon it off for money. Remember the price being derived is just based on current market rates, if you add the antique value of these pieces it may run into more crores in value. But it would also be insane to argue that these whole thing is proprietary of one family now. These treasures are not earned by them, they might have been got as gifts to the state, as tax and wealth of the state. So today a family cannot come and claim them because of a lineage. Its like our Prime Minister claiming rights on India’s economy. I feel it belongs to the people of Kerala and its upto the people be proud about it, be passionate about it and care about it and preserve it for generations.

Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple is one of those finest temples out there where a visit can really calm your soul and soothe you. Its ranks high in the way its maintained and run. A big kudos to the Royal family and the trust which does it – after all they never got tempted to loot the treasures till now. Alas that today we have denigrated to such a passé that arbid ego clashes and petty interests have lead to this skull drudgery of a situation and we have no one to blame but ourselves [read Hindus] for such an impasse. From here if an ordinance is promulgated and secular Congress party decides to put a secular person [like Mr. George Joseph or Mr. Mohammed Haji] in the trust running the temple we just have to live with it.

Now the question is next what? What to do with the treasure – should we use it for eradicating poverty or negating some of our fiscal deficit or implement NREGA with that? Anything can happen in this country. I am sure some insane voices would opine that now that people know about the treasures they are not safe where they are and should be put in bank vaults. Nothing can be disastrous than that. We have smart people in this country who even though cannot be creative can easily be creative enough to make fakes and swap the real ones. Hope we won’t tread that path. I personally would like them to maintained where they are and status quo maintained on it. Or even if they can make some great fool-proof arrangement to exhibit them and open the chambers for public that would also be good (something like public viewing every year say, for 2 weeks and then they are back to the chambers). I personally would like to see them and more than the treasure I would be excited in seeing the secret chamber and its security plugs.

Its not clear as to what will happen to the temple or the treasures – a handful of cronies and their ego will decide its fate. But thank god they can’t take the Lord away or take the shrine itself away. Those two are enough for mere mortals like me to be happy about.

A walk in the alleys of this sacred temple is enough to transpire you to another realm, to mesmerize you about our rich history and culture and hope a day will not come when they won’t even allow to do that!

Nostalgic trip and The tale of two festivals

Last week saw us leaving to our home town – Gods Own Country – Trivandrum, Kerala. The idea behind the trip was two fold, it was the festival time in Sri Padmanabha Swamy Temple near my home and it was also festival time in Thamarkulam Devi Temple which was near my wife’s home. I had missed the Shiveli (procession) in Sri Padmanabha Swamy Temple for last 6 odd years and was yearning to see one, also wanted my son to have a feel of the spectacle. And my wife was more than interested in going to her home and added to that the festival in their temple. So lapping up the festive spirit we set out for Kerala.

The festival in Sri Padmanabha Swamy temple is special time for all of us living around the temple precincts. For 20 odd years I had witnessed the spectacle year after year (occurring twice a year). And at different stages of life it meant different things. In early stage at age of 4-5 the attraction around it was the elephant. I still vividly remember those days when my grand father would hand hold me and take me near the elephant. The other major attraction then was to run in front of the elephant. The run was fun with lots of kids around moving in razzle-dazzle. In the last day of the festival after Aratu its race among the deities (of Lord Padmanabha, Lord Narasimha and Lord Krishna) in the Shiveli night, so the elephant which heralds the deities with drumming has to keep up the pace and it also runs. It was easily the most fun part running ahead of a speeding elephant. As time progressed, shivelis were spent with the accompaniment of friends and what beckoned were the pristine white sands all around the temple. It was the vast play ground for us, to play police and thief, make mountains and houses in wet sand(if it rained). During those days it was a gala time of games and fun. Then as years passed, it was more of meeting with friends in a favorite corner in temple just sit and chat and debate about all the topics in the world. It was 10 days of fun and merriment, exam or no exam, homework or no homework, come what ever may we reach temple by 8.15pm and make sure we stay there till the end around 9.30pm. This trip I could not witness all the 10 days, all I could make it up was for 2 days. But still it was mesmerizing and nostalgic. More importantly, I could make my son have a hang of it, though he is just too small for assimilating it. But he was enthralled by elephant, the sounds and lights. And of course kids love sand ain’t they? He just loved running around in the sand all alone. It’s really sad this generation kids living in metros just miss out on this small fun’s of life.

The other end of the spectrum distant from my home, I also witnessed another festival for the first time in my life at my wife’s place. If Padmanabha Swamy Temple was a spectacle organized by the temple, with we being just mute spectators thronging around and enjoying every bit of it, the festival I witnessed in a small rustic Devi temple was just the opposite of it. It was a festival of the community, by the community, and for the community. Every minute aspect of the festival was done by the people living around. It was a 5 day affair and rituals steeped in traditions like Thottam Pattu. During the course of 5 days traditional singers render these songs depicting the life of the goddess. Late nights were leisure hours with various entertainment programs like Kathakali, Drama and music lined up each day. This was the first time I saw a live Kathakali performance. The performance went up from 11pm to 6am and I witnessed two plays – Keechaka Vadham and Daksha Yagam. I must say it was an experience of life time for me. I really rue now that I missed up understanding and watching Kathakali during my days in Kerala. In Sri Padmanabha Temple during the 10 day festival, everyday night Kathakali is performed from 10pm. My son also caught up with Kathakali very well and its vivid tapestry, colors and sounds enamored him. He is now daily asking can we see Kathakali?  At one end I always wondered why in Temple festivals they include drama, music etc. What correlation does it have with religious traditions or anything to relate with bhakti. I was dead against this kind of madness that happens around temple all over Kerala. But now I feel, its just a time for the community to get together spend some time and enjoy. And if Kathakali and drama add to that fun and give happiness to people then why not? Again in festivals like this which organized by families living around the temple, I felt it was ok, as long as people are enjoying it and everything is within the limit. And after all these festivals are the only fillip to dying art forms like Kathakali and dramas. The last day of the festival, the goddess was heralded in caparisoned elephant and taken around the by lanes near by for para edupu and festival culminated in a shiveli around the shrine.

So it was a gala time of 7 days in Kerala this time, barring the sultry and vexatious weather. I surely look forward to travel around the same time next year.

PS:- It was mango season all the mango trees which I saw in tvm were ripe with raw mangoes, I had yummy time everyday afternoon eating raw mangoes spruced up with salt. Oh! my mouth is watery as I type this 🙂