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India and the Temple of Boom
July 3, 2011 10:09 PM   Subscribe

A court-mandated opening of some secret chambers at the Sree Padmanabhaswami temple in Kerala - family temple of the ruling royals of the former Kingdom of Travancore - has led to the discovery of a treasure estimated to be worth billions of dollars.
posted by vidur (92 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wowie!
posted by silby at 10:21 PM on July 3, 2011


But India's Supreme Court recently ordered that the temple be managed by the state to ensure the security of valuables at the shrine.
...
The revelation about the huge riches in the Padmanabhaswamy temple has forced police to install security cameras and alarms.

Authorities also plan to set up a commando force for security, said Kerala director general of police Jacob Punnoose.

"Now it's known all over the world that the Padmanabhaswamy temple has jewels worth billions of rupees we have decided to assign it maximum security," Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said.
Er, security ensured, then, I guess?
posted by BungaDunga at 10:28 PM on July 3, 2011


"We are yet to open one more secret chamber which has not been opened for nearly 140 years," Jayakumar said.

OMG, DON'T OPEN THAT LAST SECRET CHAMBER!!!
take the $11 billion of treasure and run!!!
posted by Bwithh at 10:30 PM on July 3, 2011 [31 favorites]


WTF?

So somebody was hiding this? Why? Or did they already run off with all sorts of loot before this was discovered. To be fair, it probably didn't even make a dent.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:33 PM on July 3, 2011


Bwithh OMG, DON'T OPEN THAT LAST SECRET CHAMBER!!! take the $11 billion of treasure and run!!!

Definitely. Way too much treasure for the party CR. Must be a solo boss fight behind that door. On the other hand, whatever it is will probably come out to reclaim the treasure, unless it's faced. So, clearly the thing to do is set up static defenses, and post guards around the temple entrance.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:37 PM on July 3, 2011 [18 favorites]


hal_c_on: from the last link
The temple, dedicated to Hindu lord Vishnu, was built hundreds of years ago by the king of Travancore and donations by devotees have been kept in the temple's vaults since.
So I assume these are some of those jewels. Looking forward to some pictures!
posted by cyphill at 10:39 PM on July 3, 2011


Rs 90000 Crore Gold Treasure found in Kerala Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple as on Sunday

The temple has 6 Secret Cellars (Nilavara – a place to keep assets safe) from Cellar A to Cellar F. Opening of each of these chambers is revealing a virtual treasure trove with precious diamonds, golden ornaments, emeralds, jewelleries, rare antique silver and brass platters and golden idols.

Seems to me that this treasure trove is anything but virtual.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:44 PM on July 3, 2011 [10 favorites]


Never trade for door number three!
posted by Nabubrush at 10:46 PM on July 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Site says Rs. 90,000 Crore (900 Billion), which amounts to USD 20,230,777,761.66.

The Brits were pretty thorough in their looting, but it seems they missed a spot. HA! My grandmother will be quite pleased.

...I should call her sometime
posted by Seiten Taisei at 10:46 PM on July 3, 2011 [10 favorites]


According to Wikipedia, Vishnu is "...the All-Pervading essence of all beings, the master of—and beyond—the past, present and future, one who supports, sustains and governs the Universe and originates and develops all elements within. Vishnu governs the aspect of preservation and sustenance of the universe, so he is called 'Preserver of the universe'."

Not someone you want to piss off by taking their treasure.
posted by marxchivist at 10:54 PM on July 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


....Is anyone else having an "Al Capone's Secret vault" flashback over the one remaining chamber?

...Just me? Okay.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:57 PM on July 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


If they'd left it alone no one would've discovered the treasure and it would be safe. But now the government took over and everybody's heard about the coins and jewelery so they need to post guards. So... mission accomplished?
posted by Kevin Street at 11:17 PM on July 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some more details about the possible sources of the treasure:
The temple, which according to the staff was built in the 13th century, has an interesting association with the erstwhile royal family. It is located inside East Fort of the old city in Thiruvananthapuram.

According to them, the 18th century ruler of Travancore, Marthanda Varma, gifted his kingdom to the deity, Sree Padmanabhan, or Vishnu, after which the royal family has been ruling their subjects as “a servant of Sree Padmanabhan,” or Padmanabhadasan.

In a symbolic act, Marthanda Varma surrendered his sword, the symbol of his power, to the deity. This is embodied in a daily ritual even today, wherein every morning the head of the erstwhile royal family comes to the temple and proceeds to the deity with the sword to reinforce his dedication to the deity. During the ritual only that family member and the priests are allowed inside the temple.
posted by vidur at 11:20 PM on July 3, 2011


The local rulers (most recently the Travancore Maharajahs) sealed immense riches within the thick stone walls and vaults of the temple, over at least a millennium, as offerings to Lord Padmanabhan.

A thousand years of offerings include:
gold idols, golden crowns, 1,200 gold chains, numerous golden staffs, golden plates, sacks of gold coins of 1732 vintage, diamonds, including Belgium diamonds, and precious stones, rubies and emeralds. 536 kg gold coins, 16 kg of gold coins dating back to the East India Company period, three kg coins from Napoleon's era, 16 kg Travancore gold coins, precious stones wrapped in silk bundles besides small elephants made of the yellow metal, rare sapphire stones and more than 2000 rubies.
The $20 billion valuation seems to be based on commodity prices but antique value could make it 10x so possibly .. 200 billion? By comparison Kerala state has a GDP of 40 billion a year.

The history of Kerala it was a spice trading center with the Middle East records going to back to Sumer 3000 BC(!). Kerala has the highest Human Development Index in India (comparable to first world nations), India's highest literacy rate, and lowest rate of corruption.
posted by stbalbach at 11:22 PM on July 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is anyone else having an "Al Capone's Secret vault" flashback over the one remaining chamber?

In the last chamber, on an altar guarded by numerous devious traps, there will be a single scrap of parchment. Written upon it will be the sole word: "Friendship."
posted by Freon at 11:23 PM on July 3, 2011 [14 favorites]


In the last chamber, on an altar guarded by numerous devious traps, there will be a single scrap of parchment. Written upon it will be the sole word: "Friendship."

real-life D&D trauma flashback?
posted by Bwithh at 11:30 PM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kinda cool, but this treasure is the very definition of "priceless". It belongs to everyone, especially the citizens of Kerala.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:32 PM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the final room: five smooth-polished stones shaped like lingams.

And a bucket of human hearts.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:07 AM on July 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


In the last chamber, on an altar guarded by numerous devious traps, there will be a single scrap of parchment. Written upon it will be the sole word: "Friendship."

They'll have to fight their way past that one tin soldier, though.
posted by dhartung at 12:12 AM on July 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Are you sure its not just a merchandising support for a to be launched new game ?
posted by infini at 12:17 AM on July 4, 2011


Brits were pretty thorough in their looting, but it seems missed a spot. HA!

I think we can all agree that nobody should loot the Indians except the Indians. That treasure represents a millenia's worth of wealth extracted from the people of India and hidden by a ruling caste that was so secure in it's privilege that it could afford to throw away treasure.
posted by happyroach at 12:22 AM on July 4, 2011 [10 favorites]


KokoRyu, I kind of agree with you.

But in another sense, the state is now paying to post guards around to make sure that $20 Billion sits in a literal money pit doing nothing in a country plagued by massive poverty, on the theory that someone out there took it with him.

So I'm of two minds.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:27 AM on July 4, 2011


Does poverty mean that one should have no aspirations? I keep hearing these things whenever India does something in the news - moon rocket discovering water on the moon comes immediately to mind. A chorus of India has no right to do this while millions starve.
Now its hey don't make a big deal about a find that matches Tutankhamen in historical and archeological context, you have so many poor, even Egypt doesn't get that bullshit all the time.

What's with the poverty premium we have to carry on our backs? Poor people want to go to the moon too, I met the maintenance guy in teh factory where some of the parts were made. It makes him feel like he's arrived too..

And Africa, well they can't possibly be developing apps on Android and raising VC funds...
posted by infini at 12:57 AM on July 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm sure they can find a way to cull the most important, amazing and valuable pieces - say, 10% of the value of the trove - to establish a top-notch museum wing that will preserve the history and culture while continuing to draw tourists for centuries. Then sell the remaining 90% of the trove to collectors (as was stated above, the antique value could be significantly larger than the quoted materials value, perhaps over a hundred billion).

The proceeds could offer the country a transformational opportunity to significantly improve infrastructure, providing jobs, developing new industries, tackling systemic problems, etc. This could be an amazing moment of blessing for the region that will dramatically improve the quality of life for generations.

Or, the opportunity could be squandered by corrupt and myopic politicians as so often happens in human events. (I hate it when my cynical streak creeps in.)
posted by darkstar at 1:18 AM on July 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Brits were pretty thorough in their looting, but it seems they missed a spot. HA!

Well they never got around to doing much looting in the Princely States like Travancore.

The proceeds could offer the country a transformational opportunity to significantly improve infrastructure, providing jobs, developing new industries, tackling systemic problems, etc. This could be an amazing moment of blessing for the region that will dramatically improve the quality of life for generations.

Even if you could sell off the whole trove at that valuation (which would have to be done gradually or the market would crash) you'd end up with an amount equal to about 8% of India's GDP. That isn't enough to offer any kind of transformational opportunity for the whole country.
posted by atrazine at 1:58 AM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Definitely. Way too much treasure for the party CR. Must be a solo boss fight behind that door.

I think it's much more likely to be a Great Old One, perhaps even an avatar of Nyarlathotep. (sticks out tongue at the D&D player, Call of Cthulhu forevar)

In the last chamber, on an altar guarded by numerous devious traps, there will be a single scrap of parchment. Written upon it will be the sole word: "Friendship."

DM: "So, the greatest treasure in the world was friendship all along!"

Player: "No, the greatest treasure in the world is a piece of paper with the word 'friendship' written on it. Which it's NOT. I want my hit points back!"
posted by JHarris at 2:00 AM on July 4, 2011


vidur: "Travancore"

It's a sort of glitchcore created solely with sounds from 8mm magnetic tape.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:37 AM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some further reading UDF looks at new law to prevent change in temple administration demonstrates that this is not a simple situation whatsoever.

At the heart of the situation is a legal challenge to the Travancore Royal house's legal right to administer the temple. The audit of the treasure is but a part of it.

However the two largest parties have already said that if the royal family loses the court case for administration that they will change the law to let them continue to administer the temple.

I am having trouble understanding how a government is supposed to take responsibility for ancient temple that has been continually administered by a religious group for hundreds of years. I feel that perhaps the answer lies in the original legal challenge.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 2:45 AM on July 4, 2011


It's worth pointing out that they'll have to sell it slowly, in a steady trickle. If they sell it off in a huge flood, it'll depress both the gold and antiquities markets sharply. They'll get the most out of it by extracting a steady revenue stream over a long period, rather than trying to cash in all at once.

I'm not sure what the overall global market can support, but I doubt they can sell more than a few hundred million dollars' worth each year. But if the valuations are as high as stbalbach suggests, they might be able to keep up that revenue flow for a couple of centuries.
posted by Malor at 2:48 AM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now its hey don't make a big deal about a find that matches Tutankhamen in historical and archeological context

The treasure may be worth a lot, but it's a huge exaggeration to suggest it matches the historical or archeological value of King Tut's.

Tutankhamun's tomb was thousands of years old, whereas this treasure doesn't seem to date back more than about 300 years. One was the only intact Pharaonic tomb ever discovered (or perhaps ever to be discovered), the other just a massive hoard of mostly generic, well known artifacts, like Napoleonic & East India Company coins, and precious stones - all of which are a dime a dozen, so to speak.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:11 AM on July 4, 2011


The Looting of Russia - a good article from some years back about how not to manage a hoard.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:14 AM on July 4, 2011


I am having trouble understanding how a government is supposed to take responsibility for ancient temple that has been continually administered by a religious group for hundreds of years.

Ask Henry VIII.
posted by rodgerd at 3:50 AM on July 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


The idol of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple is made up of 12008 salagramams that compose the reclining lord.

What's a salagramam?
posted by Xurando at 5:03 AM on July 4, 2011


Indiana Jones and the Fleecing of India.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 5:15 AM on July 4, 2011


I wonder: if they open the 36th chamber, will they find Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, GZA, RZA, U-God, Old Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, and the Masta Killa? (and maybe Cappadonna?)
posted by to sir with millipedes at 5:19 AM on July 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


*digs out her copy of The Far Pavilions for another read*
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 5:32 AM on July 4, 2011


The unopened chamber of the Sree Padmanabhaswami temple is:

a) full of stars
b) a spacial/temporal portal
c) where "top men" do research
d) the tomb of Jimmy Hoffa
e) all of the above
posted by likeso at 5:42 AM on July 4, 2011


...or perhaps a spatial/temporal portal, depending on where English was learned.
posted by likeso at 5:47 AM on July 4, 2011


atrazine: "Well they never got around to doing much looting in the Princely States like Travancore."

Travancore was one of the states that managed to escape the Doctrine of lapse and that prick Dalhousie, who had his eye on them. Other states were not so lucky.
posted by vanar sena at 5:50 AM on July 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Nicholas Cage seen softly weeping into an option contract, experimenting with different kinds of grease paint and prosthetic moustaches.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:51 AM on July 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


So what now? Do they just carry on as though nothing has been revealed ? Or do they have a responsibility to sell some of the treasure off?

It would be nice if they could provide dowries for every female child in India. However it is not my religion/not my country/not my culture so I haven't a clue as to what to expect.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:02 AM on July 4, 2011


It belongs to everyone, especially the citizens of Kerala.

I'm sure there are armies of lawyers who have something to say about that.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:10 AM on July 4, 2011


So I guess this makes them terrorists who have to be pacified in the name of freedom, eh?
posted by briank at 6:20 AM on July 4, 2011


It belongs to everyone, especially the citizens of Kerala.

Vaguely Orwellian, that, though I'm sure unintentionally.

My unworthy first thought was how useless and sterile this stuff was sitting in a dark room underground.

Actually, that remains my unworthy second thought as well. Though I have no idea its best use going forward.

Fortunately - none of my business!

Even if part of it belongs to me.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:22 AM on July 4, 2011


A thousand years of offerings include:

gold idols, golden crowns, 1,200 gold chains, numerous golden staffs, golden plates, sacks of gold coins of 1732 vintage, diamonds, including Belgium diamonds, and precious stones, rubies and emeralds. 536 kg gold coins, 16 kg of gold coins dating back to the East India Company period, three kg coins from Napoleon's era, 16 kg Travancore gold coins, precious stones wrapped in silk bundles besides small elephants made of the yellow metal, rare sapphire stones and more than 2000 rubies.


What? No pig saddles, loaves of bread, or pieces of string? Not even an old LP? Feh.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 6:33 AM on July 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


What's a salagramam?

20 billion dollars, same as in Travancore.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:33 AM on July 4, 2011 [10 favorites]


Shalagrams are basically ammonites highly revered by Hindus since the pattern resembles a sign of Vishnu. We had one inthe family shrine, till my grandmother donated it to a temple.
posted by dhruva at 6:37 AM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


It belongs to everyone, especially the citizens of Kerala.

But everyone gave their shiny crap to this Vishnu fellow. I presume the police station is going to hold onto it for 30 days and if he doesn't reclaim it it's finders keepers. Does Vishnu have a next of kin?
posted by floam at 6:57 AM on July 4, 2011


"A necklace found on Thursday was six metres long."


In the final chamber is the creature who owns the necklace, and is She pissed! Don't open that door!
posted by mermayd at 7:14 AM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


WSJ blog post with clearer explanation of why the vaults are being opened now.

Beyond "Chamber B" which is being opened today, there is a seventh chamber "reinforced with iron walls" that will require an additional court order before it can be opened.
posted by beagle at 7:20 AM on July 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think we can all agree that nobody should loot the Indians except the Indians.
About right. At least there's a very public debate on what should be done with this treasure. This is in comparison with what happened to a shiny stone that another sovereign willed to another temple:
Dalhousie's work in India was primarily aimed at appropriation of Indian assets for the use of the British East India Company. His acquisition of the diamond, amongst many other things, was criticized even by some of his contemporaries in Britain. Although some suggested that the diamond should have been presented as a gift to the Queen, it is clear that Dalhousie felt strongly that the stone was a spoil of war, and treated it accordingly[...]

In due course the Governor-General received the Koh-i-Noor from Login, who had been appointed Governor of the Citadel, the Royal Fort at Lahore, with the Royal Treasury, which Login valued at almost £1,000,000 (£81.6 million as of 2011),[9] excluding the Koh-i-Noor, on 6 April 1848, under a receipt dated 7 December 1849. (emphasis mine)
In comparison, the loot in the temple, if you will, is that it's still in the same spot it was intended to be in. The beautiful thing here is that we Indians can at least debate what we should be doing with this, as opposed to that equally historical, if less religious, stone above which now adorns the headgear of a certainly elderly lady somewhere in Europe.

On other treasure news in India, a secret passageway, flanked by towers camouflaged as banyan trunks, to another treasure remains blocked despite strongly worded letters to the Muncipal Corporation to clear the muck there. The twist in the tale: this is right below the state executive's headquarters.
posted by the cydonian at 7:41 AM on July 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd love to see some sort of analysis of the treasure to figure out where all of it came from and how it got there. I don't even know what form that would take, but it would be fascinating to read to the extent historians/archaelogists/etc. could learn/speculate about where things came from. Obviously some thing they can know (Napoleonic coins come from France) but the intervening stories we'll never know could be great too.

I'd also love to see that kind of work done on the Vatican treasury but that will never happen.
posted by immlass at 7:49 AM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Malor writes "If they sell it off in a huge flood, it'll depress both the gold and antiquities markets sharply."

I don't know about the antiquities market but it doesn't seem like it would have much impact on the gold market. Even if there are a few metric tons of gold in the vaults that is a drop in the bucket of the annual world production of ~2500 metric tons.
posted by Mitheral at 7:51 AM on July 4, 2011


the cydonian: " it is clear that Dalhousie felt strongly that the stone was a spoil of war, and treated it accordingly"

It's a particularly striking thing about that generation of the Raj. They were almost fetishistic about the letter of the law, all HARRUMPH ILLEGAL MUST RESPECT RULE OF LAW, giving whatever they did an air of fairness, justice and legitimacy trumping the fact that they wrote the law as they saw fit. In this case, for example - why was there a war, Mr. Dalhousie? It couldn't be because you wrote the fucking law giving you claim over Punjab, making it a "legal" annexation, could it? No, that would be improper!
posted by vanar sena at 7:57 AM on July 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


The proceeds could offer the country a transformational opportunity to significantly improve infrastructure, providing jobs, developing new industries, tackling systemic problems, etc. This could be an amazing moment of blessing for the region that will dramatically improve the quality of life for generations.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahah(wheeze)hahahahahahahahahaha.

If that treasure is sold, it will by for, by and profiting the elite in India. That's what India does best.

To be fair, by "India", I mean "Humanity." But those who need help will not get it from that treasure. There are mansion, yachts and jets to buy. They won't "waste" this on the poor.
posted by eriko at 8:17 AM on July 4, 2011


"precious diamonds". So none of those schleppy non-precious ones, then. Good to know they had taste.
posted by Mike D at 8:24 AM on July 4, 2011


"What's a salagramam?"

$50, same as downtown.
posted by Mike D at 8:27 AM on July 4, 2011


DM: "So, the greatest treasure in the world was friendship all along!"

Player: "Oh. Maybe you should have told me that BEFORE I assassinated the rest of the party."
posted by happyroach at 8:59 AM on July 4, 2011


Oh, I'm sure that when a poor country walks into that much money, it magically becomes less money.
posted by mobunited at 8:59 AM on July 4, 2011


Kerala has the highest Human Development Index in India (comparable to first world nations), India's highest literacy rate, and lowest rate of corruption.

How almost everyone in Kerala learned to read
posted by homunculus at 9:09 AM on July 4, 2011


for god sakes no one tell Morstan.
posted by clavdivs at 9:20 AM on July 4, 2011


I think we can all agree that nobody should loot the Indians except the Indians. That treasure represents a millenia's worth of wealth extracted from the people of India and hidden by a ruling caste that was so secure in it's privilege that it could afford to throw away treasure.

Screw that. Looting is looting. What makes the current government any more entitled to it than some future government? Because they're democratically elected? That's even worse! Someone gets a temporary five-year authority to be the Big Cheese and so now hundreds of years of history is now scattered across the world to the highest bidder? No, of course they won't actually auction those pieces of treasure. No, those pieces will take center-stage, and other pieces of treasure will be sold to pay for the new museums, additional security required, etc. This is outright thievery.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:39 AM on July 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, nobody has stolen anything yet. But yeah, the treasure should probably stay with the temple. The comparison to the Vatican upthread was very apt - this isn't the remains of a lost civilization, it's the assets of a religious group that is still extant.

But now that it has been discovered by the wider world, the Indian government should document the heck out of that hoard. Photograph and record everything, so it can't just quietly disappear in the years to come.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:34 AM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The proceeds could offer the country a transformational opportunity to significantly improve infrastructure, providing jobs, developing new industries, tackling systemic problems, etc. This could be an amazing moment of blessing for the region that will dramatically improve the quality of life for generations.

Twenty billion dollars is twenty bucks a head in India. Try getting some perspective.
posted by rodgerd at 12:00 PM on July 4, 2011


Sometimes salagram can resemble pet rocks.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:12 PM on July 4, 2011


Well, we could all use a little more perspective, sure. But it's not like everyone in India needs a $20 handout. And if you don't think that $20-100 Billion (depending on the antique value of the treasure) can't be used to leverage some transformational infrastructural improvements, like investing in education, training, industry, etc., that would impact millions of people, then you may also benefit from some perspective. Or perhaps vision?

Having just recently completed a ten-year development project overseas (in literacy and language development) where millions of people will experience multi-generational transformation in infrastructure, all on a budget of somewhere less than a few hundred thousand bucks, the idea of having a billion dollars to invest in community development is mind-blowing.

Clean water, literacy, health services, etc. don't cost much to leverage a big, multi-generational payoff in human terms. Perhaps it's living in the West that we tend to dismiss the good that this kind of money can do for people who have so little.
posted by darkstar at 1:20 PM on July 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Twenty billion dollars is twenty bucks a head in India.

Sometimes $1 spent in key places can cause 100 or 1000 times return, like healthcare and transportation infrastructure. (on preview what darkstar just said). That is why people gave money to the temple to begin with, typically late in life as a sort of insurance for the afterlife, but the idea being religion (temples in this case) help society where the state can not. Same with Catholic Church in the Middle Ages which held vast wealth and property because people would give big chunks of their inheritance to the Church, and it was the Church which could afford to maintain learning and healthcare when the state was falling apart or corrupt.
posted by stbalbach at 1:25 PM on July 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


The valuations are getting bigger. The link has comparative figures to put the amount in perspective: equal to federal government's "education budget for two-and-a-half years"; and "equivalent to seven month's defence spending". I think those two comparisons also tell a story about priorities.

And this particular royal family is said to be a humble one, though I don't know what the standards for royal modesty are.
posted by vidur at 12:22 AM on July 5, 2011


Grar, mustn't post when it is 1141PM; tend to write all kinds of dangling sentences.

The valuations are getting bigger
Note that these are purely based on weight. If you take the idols' / coins' historical worth into consideration - and there's no reason not to, given - the valuation will shoot up quite significantly.

And this particular royal family is said to be a humble one

From the article:
What makes the family's story vis-a-vis the temple all the more compelling is that the rulers always knew of the riches, yet never touched them. "The riches are mentioned in the book "Pradhanapetta Mathilakom Records" (Important Mathilakom Records) compiled by acclaimed Malayalam poet Ulloor S Parameswara Iyer and published in 1941. They also figure in the "Kottaram" (Palace) manual which runs into 12 volumes," says noted historian M G Sasibhushan. "These records refer to the sacred cellars from which treasure is being dug out."

[...] the last king Chithira Thirunal Bala Rama Varma (1912-1991), who abolished the death sentence making Travancore the first territory in India to do so. The last king issued the landmark Temple Entry Proclamation in 1936 doing away with the ban on "untouchables" entering temples.
Essentially, they've always known there was untold treasures in the temple, just that they didn't have an audit, and hadn't touched them in the 300 years that they've established Trivandrum as a capital, while in parallel, laying the foundation for modern Kerala's liberal democracy and good governance. Pretty impressive, in my book.
posted by the cydonian at 12:54 AM on July 5, 2011


Lots of political 'consensus' to let the treasures remain in the temple.
posted by the cydonian at 1:01 AM on July 5, 2011


So I'm also learning something new about Indian counting system and it's pretty cool.

Anyway, the new estimation, based on weights only, is "1 lakh crore" rupees. A lakh is 100,000 and a crore is 10 million, so that's 1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion) rupees.

A rupee is about 2 US cents now. So one lakh crore rupees = US$20 billion. Again, that's based on weight, alone. The antique and historic value of gold coins and artifacts could be conservatively 5-10 times their metal value.

It's amazing to consider this trove may be, conservatively speaking, worth over a hundred billion US dollars.
posted by darkstar at 1:06 AM on July 5, 2011


It's amazing to consider this trove may be, conservatively speaking, worth over a hundred billion US dollars.

That's only amazing because a monetary value is being placed on this particular hoard of cultural assets. But several large Western museums — for example, the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art — may have assets worth $100 billion on a market value basis. The Met, for instance, before counting any artwork, has financial assets and real estate worth about $3 billion. It has dozens of paintings that would sell in the $100 million (each) ballpark, thousands of objects that would fetch more than $1 million, and hundreds of thousands of objects of lesser, but considerable value. (There are about 2 million objects in its collection.)

However, they don't ever appraise their assets that way, and don't ever mention guestimates of total value, because it's really a meaningless number since the collection is not for sale.
posted by beagle at 9:18 AM on July 5, 2011


There is some historical perspective on the valuation at this blog. The blog links to a Chicago Daily Tribune article published on May 12, 1932 under the byline of John Steele (payment required to access full article). The article estimated the worth of the treasure at this very temple to be US$ 380,000,000 and said that "this would hardly count as seventh rate" among the richest temples in India. Lots of other fascinating information in that blog post.

It is, of course, true that many museums around the world have "priceless" treasures. But this is not a museum, and these are not artifacts in a museum. These are donations made to a temple. Such donations are made even today. And they are not made in the spirit of "keep my donation safe as a priceless artifact for future generations". They are made for the temple to use the donations into the running of the temple and whatever social schemes the temples may be running or may decide to run in the future. What we are seeing is the "surplus", and it is entirely reasonable to put a monetary value to it.

India has plenty of museums with historical artifacts that remain "priceless". Let us not mix these issues here.
posted by vidur at 4:33 PM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


>I'd also love to see that kind of work done on the Vatican treasury but that will never happen.

???

The Vatican is quite happy to show what they have and tell you all about it. Why wouldn't they be? Generates millions in tourist revenue. These Indian chaps, they could learn a thing or two. I mean to say, not even a picture of the insides?
posted by IndigoJones at 5:54 PM on July 5, 2011


In my experience, Hindu temples are quite accommodating towards visitors, but fall short of actively promoting or encouraging tourism - you're expected to behave respectfully, be careful about not pointing your camera at any sacred objects (or better still, just give the photography a break altogether), make yourself as scarce as possible during ceremonies (but not always), and so on. Often, there are areas that are completely off limits to non-Hindus.

As far as I know, the relatively tiny number of temples that are actively promoted as tourist attractions (eg at Khajuraho) aren't used anymore for religious purposes. As Sree Padmanabhaswami seems to be an active temple, I'd guess that right now they're grappling with how to discourage tourism (that isn't of the Hindu religious pilgrimage kind).
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:21 PM on July 5, 2011


The Vatican is quite happy to show what they have and tell you all about it.

The Vatican's holdings are phenomenal and they're certainly exploiting them to financial advantage, but I'm not talking about the tourism. I'm talking about research into how and why the items (not just unique pieces but coins/gold/other negotiables that are now historical artifacts) got to where they currently are, which is one of the things that interests me about Travancore.
posted by immlass at 7:52 PM on July 5, 2011


Ah, claro. Perhaps I misread the tone of the comment, but it seemed to be down on the Vatican with overtones that they were in bad faith holding stuff back. Which I really do not think is the case. They're pretty accommodating not just to tourists but to scholars as well.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:18 AM on July 6, 2011


overtones that they were in bad faith holding stuff back.

Nah, more like there's just a lot of fascinating history that's lost in terms of objects/money, especially when holdings are vast (and the Vatican's are). I do feel that there are comparisons to be made between Travancore as a religious treasure and the Vatican holdings, with obvious caveats about centralization of religion and other cultural factors. In particular I'd contrast a comparison to the Vatican's treasure to the comparison to treasures found in Tutankhamen's tomb made upthread.
posted by immlass at 9:54 AM on July 6, 2011


Fair enough. Still, I expect there's plenty of fodder for graduate students, poor sods. Lost material does continue to turn up on an irregular basis even in these benighted times.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:26 PM on July 6, 2011


(It was the Napoleonic coins that caught my attention. What on earth? Little known fact - Napoleon had maps of India on his trip to Russia with a view of swooping down. Well, we know he didn't make it, but money, money has a way of getting through where armies cannot. But how so in this case? When did they fall out of usage? Were they first British booty, or were the last European who touched the French? I smell an historical novel here. )
posted by IndigoJones at 1:30 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


touched them French
posted by IndigoJones at 1:43 PM on July 6, 2011


but money, money has a way of getting through where armies cannot.

The French had colonies in India from 1759-1954, completely straddling the Napoleonic era. Pondicherry is perhaps the most famous, down south in Tamil Nadu. One of the strategies that the colonialists used to divide & conquer India included bribing local rulers, so that's a possible explanation for you.

And as stbalbach mentioned above, the Malabar Coast - which includes Kerala where Travancore is located - has been a spice trading centre for millennia: Kerala finds mention in the annals of international trade from as early as 3000 BC, having established itself as the major spice trade centre of the world and traded with Sumer, so trade payments in gold coin also rate highly on the list of probabilities.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:38 PM on July 6, 2011


Little known fact - Napoleon had maps of India on his trip to Russia with a view of swooping down.

It's another historical tidbit that Hitler admired the way in which the English managed to subjugate the vast & populous subcontinent with a relatively small force, and thought he could emulate that in Russia, spurred on by his own racist notions of how "ubermensch" held a natural superiority over "inferior" races like Slavs. Ironically, of course, the majority of Indians are Aryan, apart from the majority Dravidians in the deep south.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:43 PM on July 6, 2011


Thank you, UbuRoivas! I had some notion (clearly wrong headed) that the French had been ejected from the subcontinent by the time of the Revolution. There's the answer, I suppose. Alarming the facts one knows that are wrong. I owe you.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:01 AM on July 7, 2011


They tried to open the temple vault in 1908 and 1931, potentially because the state needed some extra cash.

There's a very good possibility that the last remaining vault could open into the sea.

The Supreme Court-appointed observer, the former Kerala Chief Justice CS Rajan is clearly dazzled by the wealth; he has apparently told a news channel that he hasn't seen so much gold in one place in his entire life. The Supreme Court disapproves, and so does the Royal Family, the latter an amusing example of how the old elite disapproves of the new.
posted by the cydonian at 12:59 AM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


the former Kerala Chief Justice CS Rajan is clearly dazzled by the wealth; he has apparently told a news channel that he hasn't seen so much gold in one place in his entire life.

Of course not. Jayalalitha is Chief Minister of neighbouring Tamil Nadu.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:45 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


UbuRoivas: " Ironically, of course, the majority of Indians are Aryan, apart from the majority Dravidians in the deep south."

I'm pretty sure Hitler would have been aware of that, thanks to Max Mueller et al.

(Mueller in particular is a favourite villain of the cuckoo end of the Hindu nationalists. My high school Hindi teacher once very passionately explained to us that the rocket arrows in the Mahabharat, amongst other things, were actual technology that they had back then. Apparently Mueller had stolen a lot of the technical details he had gleaned from his research and provided them to the Germans, who later used them in the designs of the V1 and V2 rockets.)

Jayalalitha is Chief Minister of neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

I think you mean Jayalalithaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
posted by vanar sena at 3:37 AM on July 8, 2011


aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
posted by vanar sena at 3:40 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The police's "specially designed" uniforms to enter the temple.
posted by the cydonian at 8:36 PM on July 8, 2011


but money, money has a way of getting through where armies cannot.

So does wine. There have been quite a few Roman amphora found near the coast in Tamil Nadu, there were ports there on the sea route between the Roman Empire and China.
posted by atrazine at 1:13 PM on July 9, 2011


"The state will now have to protect it, but the chiefs of its protection agencies—Director General of Police Jacob Punnoose and city Police Commissioner Manoj Abraham—cannot even enter the temple. They are Christians. Even if they happened to be Hindu, they would not have been allowed in wearing trousers; only men clad in the traditional mundu (a kind of dhoti) may enter. Shirts are not permitted either. The upper torso needs to be bare." [Open Mag]
posted by vidur at 9:07 PM on July 11, 2011


Follow-up:

Tomb Raider down:

Sundararajan's action sparked angry debate in India, with some predicting that it could invite the wrath of Lord Vishnu.
...
Following the announcement of his death, Indian newspapers are reporting that some local people believe that Sundararajan brought the wrath of God upon himself

posted by Bwithh at 10:02 PM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


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