Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Three Treasures of Travancore

Fifteen months ago, in July 2011, a rich treasure was found in a temple in Travancore or, as it is presently called, Thiruvananthapuram.  The town or city, the capital of Kerala, is Ananthapuri, the city presided ovr by Lord Anantha.  Anantha in short for Ananthapadmanabha, the Lord in yoganidra; lying in sleeping posture on Aadishesha.  Thiru-Anantha-Puram with respect and devotion, but called as Travancore by the British.  The five sealed vaults in the Padmanabha Swamy temple were opened after 130 years and inventory of the contents found in them were taken in a process that lasted several days.  The hoard of gold, diamonds, emeralds, precious stones, jewellery and artifacts beat even the wildest imagination of a true treasure.  It is being variously described as richer than King Salomon's mines and Indiana Jones's perceived treasure hunt. Contents included over a ton of gold, sacks of diamond and other precious stones, gold necklaces over 3 meters (10 feet) long and weighing over 2.5 kg.  The treasure's real value is a matter of speculation; it is quoted variously as 100000 crore rupees (One lakh crore rupees), 22 billion US Dollars etc.  Some say its antique value exceeds 100 billion US Dollars.  That would be more than the total wealth of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet put together!

A hundred years ago, three treasures were found in Travancore.  In fact, centenary celebrations are being held during the last two years, but not many have taken note of it.  That was mainly because it was not the treasure of Goddess Lakshmi, but her daughter-in-law Goddess Saraswati.  The three treasures were unearthed between 1909 and 1912. These three sets of treasure have given us an insight into a vast area of knowledge and a peek into the rich heritage of our forefathers.

In 1909, R Shama Sastry found a manuscript of Kautalya's "Arthasastra" in one of the private libraries of Travancore. The scholar took great pains to edit the manuscript and bring it to light. Chanakya or Kautalya's life and work were centered around Maghada (Present Bihar) kingdom.  His works are believed to have been lost towards the end of Maurya Dynasty.  His treasure of wisdom was found in the form of a manuscript after nearly 2000 years, in Travancore!  This is the first treasure.  An international conference was held in Oriental Research Institute, Mysore, in 2009 to celebrate the centenary of the finding of the manuscript in Travancore and publication of the book.  Thanks to this effort of R Shama Shastry, we have the wisdom of Chanakya available to us today.

Three years later, in 1912, Mahamahopadhyaya T Ganapathy Sastri found 13 Sanskrit plays in another private library of Travancore. These were a part of the well known "Koodiyattam Plays" of Kerala.  Ganapathi Sastry was an acknowledged scholar and principal of Travancore Sanskrit college.  He sorted out the manuscripts and found that one of the plays was "Swapna Vasavadatta".  Thus came out the famous "Naataka chakra" of Bhasa Mahakavi.  A second treasure of nearly 2000 years was placed in our hands by Travancore.  A playwright par excellence, Bhasa is acknowledged as a model by Kalidasa himself, in his "Maalavikaagnimitra".  But for the finding of this treasure in Travancore, Bhasa would have been just another name like Soumilla and Kaviputra, the other two names mentioned by Kaalidasa in the same reference.

The third treasure is indeed unique.  Pandit N Ramaswami Sastriar was scanning through the old manuscripts in another private library of Travancore around the same time.  He found a bundle of 61 moth-eaten palm-leaf manuscript sandwiched between two totally unrelated works.  These palm-leaf writings were part of a nine chapter work titled "Madhura Vijayam" or "Vira Kamparaya Chariram".  The writer is Gangambika alias Gangadevi, wife of Kamparaya who is the hero of the work.  Kamparaya or Kampanna was the second son of Bukka, who co-founded the Vijayanagara empire with his brother Hakka.  The manuscript was edited and published by two other scholars, G Harihara Sastri and V Srinivasa Sastri, in 1924.

Kampanna was assigned the task of expanding Vijayanagara empire by his father Bukkaraya and sent to Kancheepuram to conquer the area.  After his victory in Kancheepuram, a strange woman visitor (believed to be Godess Meenakshi of Madurai)  meets him and advises him to proceed to Madurai and liberate that area from Sultan's rule there.  Kamparaya proceeds to Madurai, defeats the Sultan's army and kills the sultan in single combat.  Kamparaya then restores the Srirangam temple, ravaged by Malik Kafur  and Khusroo Khan, to its old glory.  Gangambika accompanied her husband to Kancheepuram and Madurai and has recorded her husband's victories as she saw them. This third treasure is a rare work of an earliest medieval  poetess and there are indications that she was from a Telugu lineage. Her account of the war and history, of the period in second half of 14th century (1370s), is considered accurate and reliable.

A subhhashita (words of wisdom) says:

पृथिव्यां त्रीणि रत्नानि जलं अन्नं सुभाषितं
मूर्खाः पाषाण खण्डेषु रत्न संज्ञा विधीयते

Pruthivyaam treeni ratnaani, Jalam Annam Subhaashitam, Moorkhaha paashana Khandeshu ratna sangna vidheeyate!

There are three precious things on this earth - Water, Food and Good or kind  words.  Only fools consider pieces of stones as Precious ones!  Kaveri river water dispute has reminded us of the first two.  We know the value of third one.  If anyone still has any doubt, King Maidas may be consulted. 


  1. "Three treasures of Travancore" - the article itself is a treasure in as much as it has given a valuable insight to a piece of indian heritage which was relatively litle known. Pl keep up your good work.

  2. Sir,

    This is one of memorable excellent works by you

    Please keep on doing and sending.

    HS Madhava Rao.

  3. Excellent article. It enriched many wonderful things. Thanks.

  4. A great insight to the Indian history. A rare information not known so far to majority of us. thanks for the beautiful piece of information.

  5. it is 100 lakh crores and not 100 crores I belive .Kindly confirm whether i am right

  6. Sir superblyy written...this kind of information gathering first of all is paramount task..this article in itself is such a treasure of your valuable information ...