Thiruvananthapuram (Inde): treasures of Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple

Panel to seek National Geographic Society’s help for inventory of temple treasure

A. Srivathsan

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A view of Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram. Photo: S. Gopakumar

The intricate craftsmanship of gem-studded jewels has dazzled the Supreme Court-appointed experts who have been documenting the treasures of Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram.

Evaluating and recording the details of the jewels is consuming more time than they thought. Fearing that this may delay the completion of inventory, the committee of experts is planning to seek the help of the National Geographic Society (NGS), a non-profit institution known for its magazine and television programmes on archaeology and environment, to speed up the process.

In its seventh interim report, submitted to the court last month, the committee said investigating the gem-studded objects was time-consuming and it was able to document only three or four objects a day. Of the l.05 lakh items documented so far (till mid-March), about 500 were embedded with gems. Except a few, all of them had a minimum of 100 precious stones each. One single locket alone contained 997 gems. Together, these jewels accounted for 60,000 gems.

The gem-testing procedure was taking time and unless the committee identified new technologies to evaluate these articles, it could not complete the inventory within the time limit set by the court, the report said.

It has been decided to study the procedures used in the United States, France and England and update the methods adopted in the temple. The committee has decided to extend a special invitation to the NGS to demonstrate the technology it uses for studying artefacts.

Following a court directive in 2011, the committee was set up to study and record the treasures found in the six kallaras (underground vaults) of the temple. Of the six, ‘A’ to ‘F,’ ‘kallara B’ is yet to be opened. The committee has completed the documentation of the articles found in four kallaras, while the enumeration of those in ‘kallara A,’ which contains the maximum number of objects, is on. So far, it has found 1.03 lakh articles in ‘kallara A.’

Along with jewels, plenty of ancient coins have been found. Of them, Venetian and late Roman coins are of extensive academic interest. Archaeologists assign mid-fourth century C.E to the late Roman period and the 14th century C.E to the Venetian period.

S. Suresh, archaeologist and specialist in Roman trade in South India, said: “It is not surprising that the Padmanabhaswamy temple has Roman coins. The Kerala coast was a hub of Roman trade for long, and Roman coins were in circulation. Some of them would have found their way to the royal treasury and then to the temple.”

He reckons that a careful study of these coins will help to know more about Kerala’s history in general and the temple in particular. “What would be of interest is to find out whether these coins have any connection with the famous Kottayam hoard that yielded more than 50,000 Roman coins — the largest in South Asia. Most of these coins, which were discovered in the 1850s, have disappeared. We have very little information about them.”

The bulk of the coins found in the kallaras are Raasippanams (small gold coins). About 1,95,000 of Raasippanams, weighing more than 600 kg, have been documented. Along with the coins, 14,000 Arka flowers — gold-covered objects used as votive offerings — have been found in the kallaras.