The Treasure In Your Basement

I read this amazing story in Alan Cohen‘s monthly e-letter. He makes a nice connection between internal and external treasures and makes some thought-provoking points.

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by Alan Cohen

The Padmanabha Swamy temple. Photograph: Reuters

Earlier this month the nation of India discovered a nearly unbelievable treasure locked in the basement of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum. The cache of gold statues, diamonds, and jewels was accumulated through donations to the temple by wealthy families over a period of 500 years. Locked in six tightly secured rooms, no one has viewed the booty for over 150 years.

The value of the find is currently estimated at a minimum of $22 billion, perhaps much more. Indian leaders are now deciding what to do with the treasure, the sum of which exceeds India’s annual budget for education for the entire nation of nearly 1.2 billion people.

Since what you see outside you, including public news, represents what is happening inside you, the news is good for all of us. You have an extraordinary treasure hidden in your basement. You own a royal fortune of talent, insight, creativity, vision, love, and connection to universal wisdom. Like the treasure at Padmanabhaswamy, your cache has largely been locked away. Yet the day comes when the riches are liberated and put to good use. No one benefits from gold sitting in a dark chamber, especially when circulating it can improve the world. How many people in India can be fed for $22 billion? How many homes could be built for the many impoverished there? How many children could be educated so they can create better lives for themselves and their families?

I think it symbolic and appropriate that the greatest hidden treasure of all time has been unearthed in one of the most overtly poor nations on the planet. No matter the appearance of lack or bleakness the outer world shows us, there exists an invisible gift to offset it. The issues of the world seem insurmountable: the ecological crisis, financial deficit, war, hunger, and social and moral decay. Yet there are answers and healing for all of these pressing issues if we just look below the surface, and go within.

The deity of the Trivandrum Temple, Padmanabhaswamy, represents the Hindu Lord Vishnu asleep. Perhaps Lord Vishnu is waking up as an inspiration for all of us to join him.

Here’s a July 5, 2011 news story about the find from NPR’s website.

In Southern India a story that sounds like the plot line of a Hollywood adventure is unfolding. Over the past week, on orders from the country’s Supreme Court, a panel has found a treasure estimated to be worth $22 billion in the underground vaults of a Hindu temple in Trivandrum, India.

The AP reports:

Inside the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, investigators were counting the staggering hoard of gold coins and statues of gods and goddesses studded with diamonds and other precious stones. Outside, small groups of armed policemen patrolled the temple grounds in the heart of the Kerala state capital, Trivandrum.

Metal detectors were hurriedly installed at temple entrances after six days of searches revealed a treasure trove of artifacts, statues and temple ornaments made of gold and embellished with jewels.

The valuables were donated to the temple by devotees over hundreds of years, and India’s erstwhile royal family has been the custodian of the treasures.

The vaults had not been opened in about 150 years and the treasure spans some 500 years. India’s Supreme Court ordered that the vaults of the temple be inventoried after a man filed a suit that worried about how the trust was caring for the riches.

In some ways, that’s where the story gets interesting. With the find, India is in the middle of a heated discussion about what rights to afford former royalty and what should happen to riches like these that include historic pieces destined for museums. The Christian Science Monitor offers a condensed family history:

The temple is controlled by descendants of the royal family of Travancore, the former princely state of the region. It is believed the former rulers donated much of their wealth to the temple, where it lay in safe keeping for decades. Offerings by the many worshippers making pit stops there along the global trade routes probably also contributed to the treasure.

It was no stumbled-upon find, however. While the vaults have been kept under lock and key for around 150 years, the wealth has been on the public record.

Still, $22 billion (yes, billion with a “B”) is a lot of money. We wondered why it wasn’t put to use. The Hindu newspaper reports that the royal family ruled Travancore as “padmanabha dasasas,” which means they were servants of the temple’s deity. The BBC explains a bit better in between some legal history:

The Supreme Court stayed a ruling by the high court in Kerala, which ordered the state government to take over the temple and its assets from the royal trust. It also ordered the trust to hand over responsibility for the temple’s security to the police.

The members of the Travancore royal family entrusted their wealth to the temple because they consider themselves to be servants of its presiding deity. The deity, Padmanabhaswamy, is considered by devotees to be an aspect of the Hindu God Vishnu in eternal sleep.

But there was a public outcry when the Maharajah attempted to retain control of the temple by citing a special law, with many arguing that the wealth belonged to the people now.

The panel appointed by the Supreme Court has opened five of the six vaults. The panel managed to open the sixth vault but found an iron wall inside it, reports the BBC. As if the story couldn’t get any weirder, The Hindustan Times reports the sixth vault has a snake on the front door and quoting an unnamed royal family source, it reports that opening it “might be a bad omen.”

The Guardian reports that the sixth vault has “special locks” but experts should be able to examine them and open it by Friday. The Guardian also reports that the inventory is being conducted under the watch of police, but no pictures or video of the vaults will be taken or released because it “is strictly prohibited” within a “sacred space.”


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2 Responses to “The Treasure In Your Basement”

  1. Dona Koshowany Says:

    I love this story!!! Also made me remember I really need to try to find if a oil painting my grandparents carried over from Europe by an artist friend has significant value. It has emotional value to me, and the painting is definitely museum quality work (I’m an artist too)–It’s by a Ukrainian painter–which at the time fell under the Soviet Union, so he’ll most likely be classified as a Russian painter. Thanks again for this story Phil. It’ll be very exciting to learn what the Indian government does with this treasure and how it benefits the Indian people in need.

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Very cool, Dona. Keep me posted about that painting!

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