Deep within Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Kerala lies Vault B, a chamber rumored to contain the greatest treasure history has ever known. Only problem? Its door is sealed, and no one dares open it.
Imagine an ancient temple with walls made of gold and chambers filled with priceless treasures, hidden behind traps and magically-sealed doors for millennia. Ancient umbrellas composed of golden rods, golden bows, arrows, shields and swords, and gold thrones encrusted with thousands of invaluable gems. Countless rings, lockets, and necklaces of gold and silver, many embedded with precious stones. Statues made of solid gold and beautiful craftsmanship lying on piles of diamonds and emeralds far too numerous to catch in a single glimpse. Trillions of dollars’ worth of valuables—which are even more valuable considering their historical importance. Picture all that, and more, and what you get is Padmanabhaswamy Temple, the Golden City.
Or so the legend goes. According to historical records, the Padmanabhaswamy Temple was among the wealthiest ones in the world, with some texts dating from before 500 BC referring to it as “The Golden Temple” and claiming it was made almost entirely of solid gold. Of course, this is not true of the temple as it stands today, but even now we’re realizing just how wealthy it actually is. And to our surprise, some of the stories were actually true.
City of Thiruvananthapuram, in Kerala, with Padmanabhaswamy Temple in the background.
The temple is dedicated to the adoration of a particular manifestation, or avatar, of the Hindu god known as Vishnu (or Krishna), here enshrined in the Anantha Shayanam posture on the serpent known as Shesha. For generations, the temple has been managed by the Maharaja of Travancore. You see, deities can actually own property in India, though, for obvious reasons, they require an earthly representative to act as guardian or custodian for anything concerning its administration. The role in this case is fulfilled by the royal figure, the Maharaja, as per Indian law and custom.
However, by 2011, several concerns were brought to the Supreme Court of India about mismanagement of the temple and its contents. It was suspected many artifacts had been stolen—artifacts that had been left as offerings to Vishnu across the centuries and that were now being taken away from their rightful place. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of opening several of the vaults in order to ascertain the state of the treasures held within, so a special committee was send. And what they found was staggering.
Deity in the Anantha Shayanam posture.
The ancient vaults
For a long time now, the temple management authorities had been aware of the existence of six different vaults, designated in official documents by a single letter, from A to F. Two additional chambers, Vault G and H, have been discovered since. Four of the vaults, C, D, E, and F, were routinely opened every year by the temple priests in order to take out items for use in special ceremonies, which were deposited back afterward.
As for the rest of the chambers: they knew they had been closed for centuries and feared what might happen if they were opened. Supposedly sealed by religious rituals, opening them could cause the anger of the gods, after all. Legends about them abound. Some said they were guarded by giant snakes, who would kill anyone who tried accessing beyond the permitted boundaries. Others claimed behind the doors there was an entire ocean, so that opening them would flood the entire city in an instant. Yet others believed traps and curses would befall trespassers. But pretty much everyone knew the chambers contained unimaginable wonders accumulated over thousands of years of devotees donating their riches as tribute to the Deity.
The mystery behind Vault B
And this is where legend meets fact. When the Supreme Court of India sent an official committee to open vault A, they discovered a wealth of treasure valued in the billions. But still the other vaults remain closed after centuries, and no one can ascertain what riches might lie behind.
Supposedly, the largest treasure could be hidden in Vault B. And the Supreme Court wanted to know. But when the special committee managed to open the metal-grille door that secured the entrance, they found a big and sturdy wooden portal behind it. So they opened that one too. And then they found a third door, this one made of iron, securely jammed and hard to budge. The committee discussed forcing their way in, but in the end decided not to. After all, this is a sacred temple, and terrible rumors warn against any such entry. Even beyond the myths and superstition, it would be nothing short of disrespectful by any measure. So what can you do? Hire a locksmith, of course!
But before the locksmith could arrive, the royal family filed an injunction against opening Vault B—an injunction that still stands today. As per the law, no one can open that door for now, so its contents shall remain a mystery for a while still. We can only imagine: a vault whose walls are made of gold. Golden weapons and thrones encrusted with thousands of invaluable gems. Statues made of solid gold and beautiful craftsmanship lying on mounts of diamonds and emeralds far too numerous to catch in a single glimpse. Or so the legend goes.
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