Saturday, July 2, 2011


A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Travancore,a princely state that tried to become a member of the United Nations after the declaration of Independence in 1947,has always been an example of good governance thanks to the efforts of Sir T Madhava Rao, the Prime MInister in th second half of the nineteenth century. The kings of Travancore devised a novel legitimizing strategy for their rule. They ruled in the name of the Deity, Padmanabha, one of the forms of Vishnu. The kIngs claimed to be the deputy of the deity. Such a political theory was obviously inspired by the political practices of the the Vijayanagara Empire. The wars with the Dutch, the Portuguese and the expanding sultanate of Mysore especially under Tippu Sultan made the kingdom of Travancore an early entrant into the subsidiary alliance and the Rajas of Travancore were firm supporters of the Company like the Mahratta chieftains, Scindia, Holkar and the Gaikwad.

The good administration together with the prosperity engendered by the trade and commerce made the kingdom extremely rich. The discovery of the treasure trove in the Padmanabha Temple reflects this.

Two days back i.e. 30th June 2011, the ante chambers near the sanctum sanctorum of the temple was opened and a veritable treasure trove was discovered. Nearly 1000 golden chains,bag full of diamonds,golden plates, fabulous jewelery,and a numismatists' delight in the form of hundrens of coins dating to the medieval period down to the rulers of Travancore. The inventory of this treasure trove is being done under the direct supervision of the Supreme Court. The Archaeological Survery of India has lost its credibility due to its partisan role and politisised nature of its functioning. In fact the suspicion that many entertain that the ASI and its top brass are involved in smuggling of antiquities makes us extremely apprehensive of any cultural property which is in the hands of the ASI.

The temple was the personal property of the ruling family and therfore the situation in Travancore or Trivandrum is much different from that of TamilNadu where tEmples became state property as soon as the Company established itself. The various instruments of accession signed at the time of Independence are specific to Government property and excluded religious holdings. This being the case the ruling family can make a good case for the restoration of the jewellry to the descendents of the last raja of Travancore. The precedent in this case is similar to that of the Nizam of Hyderabad who was permitted to keep his personal wealth.

The discovery of the treasure trove provides a major opportunity for historians to study a hug cache of historical antiquities. Numismatists must take the opportunity to analyse the coins using the methods that Peter Spufford has outlined in his Money and its Uses in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 2009).

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