Monday, April 30, 2012

vishnu's treasures

Reporter Jake Halpern has written a story in this week's (April 30) New Yorker that reads like a real-life "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

The Padmanabhaswami temple in Trivandrum, Kerala State, India, may be more than 12 centuries old, although its most visible feature, the seven-story tower (or gopuram), writhing with gods, nymphs, demons and saints on all four of its sides, in the manner typical of southern India, was built only recently, in the 1560's and 70's.

But long before the tower rose, devotees and pilgrims visited the temple to leave gifts for Vishnu, the supreme Hindu deity who presides here, (and is even the legal owner of the place). Over the centuries, these gifts, which include gold jewelry and precious stones, have mostly accumulated in vaults beneath the main altar, where the deity reclines on a couch formed by the body of a five-headed cobra.

Last summer, the first of these vaults was entered by observers appointed by the Supreme Court of India, accompanied by witnesses who had an interest in discovering the truth about the legendary treasure vaults of Padmanabhaswami. The head clerk of the temple believed no one had been inside for over a century.

The treasure inside the first vault was astounding. It had once been stored in wooden boxes, but these had long since fallen to dust, and the golden, jewel-encrusted chains, rings, statuettes, and loose stones lay in heaps throughout the chamber. One estimate of the value of the hoard is $20 billion.

Vault B, like the first vault, had a locked iron grille in front of a locked wooden door. However, unlike vault A, it also had a metal door with three locks, one of which was found to be frozen. At this date, the room still has not been entered.

So you're wondering, what will happen to all that incredible treasure? Probably nothing. South Asian religious conservatism is about as conservative as anything could possibly be, and don't forget. all that incredible wealth belongs to Vishnu alone.

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