x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Kerala's treasured past

A 16th century treasure uncovered at a Kerala temple exemplifies India's rich history that is still in the process of being revealed.

There are rubies, gold and silver and sacks of turquoise and diamonds - all buried in a hidden temple vault, deep in the Indian subcontinent. Where have we heard this story before?

In his story The King's Ankus, Rudyard Kipling recounted the historical riches waiting to be discovered in the recesses of India's jungles. But it has taken modern day bureaucrats - and a court order - to bring such a bounty to the light of day.

The discovery of billions of rupees worth of treasure at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Kerala has opened a door into the ancient world of the kingdom of Travancore. Since the 16th century this temple has kept its secrets about the wealth of former princes. Now their forgotten gold has been unearthed.

Not all secrets are meant to be revealed, of course. Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma, 89, the current temple trustee, fought a legal battle to keep the jewels hidden. His loss may well be India's gain, but only if pledges to preserve these treasures are honoured.

Kings and princes entrusted their riches to Sree Padmanabhaswamy because of the custodians' commitment to secrecy. But to quote Kipling, the temple's treasure now "needs a new warden". We can only hope that the next guardian of Travancore will be as diligent as the last.

History is, after all, more valuable than mere jewels.