Sri Padmanabhaswamy: The Lord of the rings, necklaces and taxes – topic for discussion
Posted by cvbasheer on July 12, 2011
Sri Padmanabhaswamy: The Lord of the rings, necklaces and taxes
Published: Sunday, Jul 10, 2011, 1:04 IST
By Malavika Velayanikal | Place: Bangalore | Agency: DNA
The recovery of treasure worth over Rs5 trillion from the vaults of Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram has stunned the nation.
Thanks to it, in Kerala’s libraries, sections devoted to Travancore history are seeing some action after decades. Interestingly enough, there are plenty of records on the wealth that was unearthed.
The story of how so much wealth flowed into the temple vault begins in the 15th century, when the temple administration was controlled by a closed group, recorded as “ettara yogam” (the council of eight and a half) with eight and a half votes. Of these, eight votes went to seven Pootti (a Brahmin sub-caste) families and one Nair family. The Travancore royals held just half a vote.
This powerful council of eight and a half divided the Travancore region into eight provinces, and the eight lords of Ettuveetil Pilla, a powerful Nair family, was put in charge of each. These eight Nair feudal lords soon became more influential than even the royal family. They were also notorious for their cruelty. History textbooks say that they conspired against the royals, and tried to kill young Marthanda Varma, who had to run away from the palace, and hide among the branches of a huge jackfruit tree. In exile, Marthanda Varma, with help from neighbouring kings, raised an army, attacked and killed all the eight lords, and became the king of Travancore.
The king went on to fight and win many civil wars. The losers were fined heavily, and most of the fines collected went into the temple treasury. The wealth of the Travancore kingdom during his rule was found to be almost as much as that of the Bourbon Kings in France around the same period.
Though an excellent strategist, Marthanda Varma lacked the infrastructure to defend the wealth and his kingdom against attacks, and so had to rely on the faith surrounding the temple. Therefore, in 1750, he ceded his crown at the feet of the deity in an officially recorded event, known as ‘Tripadidanam’. He basically abdicated his throne in favour of Lord Padmanabha, declaring himself and his descendants to be “Padmanabha Dasa”, meaning servants of the Padmanabha who would carry out the God’s commands. Doing so essentially meant the transfer of the kingdom’s wealth to the temple.
With this brilliant move, Marthanda Varma secured his kingdom from possible attacks by his enemies. The neighbouring kings dared not wage war against Travancore, ruled as it was, by the God himself. Instead, they made generous donations to the temple vaults to mollify Padmanabha.
Marthanda Varma renovated the temple and built the massive store rooms under the sanctum sanctorum, which became the vault of the kingdom.
Padmanabha thus became the ruler of the land, and his insignia, “Valampiri Shankhu” (a conch-shell) became the state emblem of Travancore.
Taken from the masses
Historical evidence backs the claim that Marthanda Varma was responsible for most of the wealth found in the recent search. True, the bags of gold coins, diamonds, precious stones, 18-feet-long gold necklaces, jewellery weighing many kilograms, and solid-gold statues of gods and goddesses landed in the vault via the king. But in reality, the temple treasury was nourished by the sweat and blood of the masses as well.
One of the main sources of the royal income was taxes. They were incredibly high for the lower castes, with marriages, childbirth and even death being taxed. Country boats, ploughs, carts, umbrellas, headscarves, why, even a moustache, were taxed. Mothers were allowed to breastfeed their newborns only after they paid the ‘mulakaram’ (breast-tax) to the local lord, who would then grant permission.
It took a small but bloody revolution during the time when the Maathoor Panikkers were the landlords of Kuttanad to stop the breast-tax. The bloodiest story of the protest was of a young woman (name not known) from Cherthala’s Kapunthala family. She breast-fed her child without official sanction and the news reached the ears of the landlord.
Enraged, he rushed to the Kapunthala house. The young woman faced him fearlessly, irking him further. He ordered her to pay the tax, and she agreed. She went into the house, and returned with her two breasts chopped. She threw them at the feet of the shocked landlord, collapsed and died.
There is a custom that the members of the royal family follow. AsPadmanabhadasas, they consider it their duty to keep the wealth of the deity intact. After every temple visit, they vigorously rub off specks of dust stuck on their feet so that Padmanabha does not lose even a grain of dust that belongs to him! While there’s no disputing the fact that the Travancore kings were zealous custodians of the deity’s wealth, it is undeniable that the loot is coloured not just by faith, but also by defeats, fears, deaths, conquests, and atonements.
Sources: Mathilakam Records, Kerala Charithram by P Sankunni Menon, Thiruvithaamkoorinte Charithram by A Sreedhara Menon