The interim order of the Supreme Court in the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple case that virtually de-controlled the shrine from the erstwhile Travancore royal family marks clean break from the past.
The apex court, while agreeing with the report of the amicus curiae Gopal Subramaniam, had yesterday ordered the creation of a five-member administrative set-up under the district judge which will not have any direct representation of the royal family.
The decision also signalled a critical turn in the long-drawn litigation for transparency in administration and proper audit of the huge treasures of the temple, started years back as a private petition in a local court.
Lord Padmanambha is the family deity of Travancore royal house and since 18th century the princes of the lineage had ruled most of south Kerala and adjoining parts of Tamil Nadu as "Padmanabhadasa" (servants of Padmanabha). After the integration of the princely state in 1947, the royal rule came to an end and most major temples of Travancore were brought under a Devaswom Board.
But as a special case, control over the Padmanabhaswamy temple was left in the hands of the royal family.
Interestingly, the elected governments that came to power in the state since then, including those led by the Left, have bothered a little about the temple or the priceless treasures hidden in its vaults.
Though old-timers used to say about the 'maha nidhi'
(fabulous treasure) in the underground chambers, the public at large had for long taken such claims as exaggerated. Things started changing when two devotees approached a sub-court here in 2007 seeking to restrain the temple authorities from opening the chambers and photographing the treasures for making an album.
Considering the plea, the court appointed a two-member lawyers' commission vesting them with the authority to open a particular chamber to take out jewels and utensils required for festivals and other important occasions. The court also suggested creation of an administrative body on the lines of the Guruvayur temple, which was challenged in the High Court by the temple authorities.
It was at this juncture that T P Sunarrajan, a former IPS officer, stepped in with the argument that the temple is no longer a private property and there should be accountability and transparency in its management. Sundararajan's stand was endorsed by the High Court and suggested that temple administration be brought under a trust or a separate body formed for it.
This was challenged by the royal family