The offerings of gold and gems to Padmanabhaswamy, valued in billions, are not anonymous. Records of the gifts have been properly documented for centuries. Padmanabhaswamy temple archives contain several hundred bundles of palm leaf manuscripts called “churunai”, each bundle containing one lakh manuscripts of documents detailing the day-to-day administration and events of the temple. These documents are in Malayalam, Tamil, and Koleluttu scripts. It is estimated that there are 3,000 bundles of records, meaning that the total number of palm leaf documents would be about 30 crore! Unfortunately, these have not yet been deciphered and published. The few that have been published so far show systematic recording and documentation of gifts to the temple which would give enough information to fix the date, even the type of donors, of this huge wealth in the temple treasury.
In early 15th century (1425 AD), the then King Vira Ravi Varma constructed a record room in the temple compound. Another record (1486 AD) says that two categories of accountants were appointed—one, Karana-kanakkan, an accountant or caretaker for legal documents; the other, Pandara-kanakkan for maintaining accounts of valuables and jewels. The duty of the Pandara-kanakkan was to write and preserve day-to-day accounts of the temple and also maintain correct account of the temple treasury and the revenue collection. It was all very strictly done.It is now known that in 1931 there was an effort to open the vaults of the main cells in the temple. They could not be opened; the attempt was abandoned. But a few other rooms were opened, and inventories prepared. Therefore, the present wealth consisting of treasures, jewels, gold image, coins, vessels and the rest belong to an earlier period. There is yet another record of 1874, which registers and seems to suggest that a great number of gifts were pouring into the temple through pilgrims like Sankaracharya, who offered kanikkai (offering). The record also says the Hindu representatives of Mohammed Ali Nawab of Arcot and the British government, besides the rulers of Kashi, Nepal, Vijayanagaram, Kashmir, Mysore, Gwalior, Cochin, Kozhikodu, Pudukkottai and others had paid homage to Lord Padmanabha during that period. It shows that the donors representing all of India have visited the temple, a unique record of national integration. It is likely that the treasures now being inventoried were presented mostly between 1700 and 1900. One of the great personalities who gifted enormous wealth was the illustrious Rani of Travancore, Gowri Lakshmi Bai, early in the 19th century. In addition to these offerings, it is seen that the revenue realised from the temple land and other possessions, meant for meeting the expenses of the temple services, were also turned into valuables and kept in the treasury.It is clear that the rulers of Travancore protecting the Padmanabhaswamy temple have taken adequate measures almost from the 12th century onwards to safeguard and administer the wealth of the temple. This is what has preserved the Lord’s wealth. It is not unlikely that documents about the wealth after 1900 are also available in some of these churunai bundles. Significantly, nowhere is there any mention or suggestion that the king’s treasures could have been kept in the temple for safety as has been surmised. According to 11th century Chola inscriptions, which ought to be the Agama tradition applicable to all Agama temples, it is not permissible to bring an outsider’s property inside the temple.The foremost need, therefore, is to put a batch of youngsters under competent directorship and get these manuscripts digitised and transcribed in modern characters. This temple, which follows Vedic tradition, had a great Rig Vedic school that existed for over 500 years but was closed down about 40 years ago, when the temple lands were taken away under the land reform programme. This remarkable school had preserved the Vedic tradition from 15th century and had produced two of Kerala’s two tallest and outstanding scholars, namely, Narayanan Nambudri, who wrote Tantrasamuccaya, a book on architecture, and Narayana Bhattathiri who wrote Narayaneeyam, a book on Lord Guruvayurappan. Bhattathiri ’s work bears the testimony to the ethos of Kerala’s devotion and Nambudiri’s is the basic text of Kerala’s architecture. There must be only 15 survivors from the last batch of students, all above 70.What should be done now to bring this tradition back alive? A small amount of money can revive a great devotional tradition, the principal drive that promoted such gifts of wealth, and, more important, preserved it with the highest integrity and honesty.The writer is former director, Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology