In the Vedas, Lord Vishnu is referred to as Bhagavan – He who possesses all strength, all beauty, all fame, all knowledge and all renunciation. Bhagavan also possesses all wealth and this became apparent recently in the case of the ancient Ananta-Padmanabha Swami Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

The temple is famous as one of the Divya-desams (holy abodes of Vishnu) and its presiding Deity is Ananta-Padmanabha, the form of Vishnu who rests on the coils of Ananta-sesa. However, in June 2011, the temple's fame became worldwide when the Indian Supreme Court ordered the archeological department to open and make an inventory of items contained in six vaults beneath the temple. The investigators had no idea what to expect, and when they opened the first five vaults they were astounded. Piles of gold coins (both foreign and Indian), hundreds of gold chains, precious gems, crowns, thousands of ornaments, golden Deities and other treasures filled the chambers. By the time the team had completed their inventory of the first five vaults, the estimated that the trove was worth about 38 billion dollars.

Up to this point it was believed that the Venkatesvara Balaji Temple in Tirupati was the richest temple in the world, but this latest discovery at the Ananta-Padmanabha Swami Temple challenges that.

The existing temple dates back to the 8th Century when the royal family of Travancore began to patronized the shrine. They made major renovations and offered great amounts of wealth to the Deity of Ananta-Padmanabha. The kings of Travancore accept the title 'Padmanabha Dasa' (the servant of Padmanabha), considering that the Lord is the actual ruler of the kingdom and they are simply His servants. The great wealth found in the temple vaults is thought to have been offered to the Deity by their royal attendants over the centuries.

However, since the opening of the vaults, the present king of Travancore, Maharaja Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma is not amused with the governments handling of the situation.

As custodian of the temple, the king considers the treasure to be the sole property of Lord Padmanabha. To this end, the royal family approached astrologers prior to the opening of the sixth vault. The astrologers performed a deva-prasna – a ceremony that is performed to discover the will of the Deity Himself. Such rituals are generally done in order to determine any course of action related to temple activities. The four-day ritual began on August 18th 2012 and on the final day the conclusion of the astrologers was that government officials should not open the final chamber. They claimed that it was too close to the main altar of Lord Padmanabha and opening the vault would incur His displeasure.

Despite the warnings, officials were not fazed and the sixth vault was opened at midday on July 27th 2012. Its door was purportedly made from a solid piece of seamless iron, sealed with a complicated locking system and embellished with the image of two intertwined cobras (naga-bandham), leading many to believe that the vault was sealed with a special mantra and that misfortune would befall whoever opened it.

When the authorities finally entered the chamber, the first thing they set eyes on was a large solid gold Deity of Lord Padmanabha weighing about 35 kgs. All around the chamber there were chests full of gold ornaments, diamond necklaces silver artifacts and precious stones. Reportedly, one gem found in the vault was itself worth 50 crore (?????)

While the royal family of Travancore and the devotees of Lord Padmanabha strongly feel that the treasure belongs to the Deity, some people argue that the government should take the treasure and use it for humanitarian purposes. However, in November 2012, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that the first priority of the government would be to strengthen the first vault and shift the valuables back inside once a detailed inventory was completed. However, due to the sheer volume of treasure, it is predicted that the inventory will not be finished until June 2013.

In regards to the officials who entered the sixth vault, so far no misfortunes have yet been reported. But one cannot help but wonder whether the decision of the Supreme Court was influenced by a desire to please the devotees of Padmanabha, or due to fear of arousing His disapproval. Either way, it is all for the good…