Temple riches conjure a Louvre in Kerala

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Louvre in Paris, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Vatican Museums in Rome could just find themselves rubbing shoulders with a new competitor in the world's top league of museums. Fittingly, the likely new kid on the block is the former princely state of Travancore, now southern Kerala, which had relations with practically every part of the world through many centuries, from Egypt to Portugal , Rome to China, and France to Arabia.

If and when that happens, the museum will have a tongue-twister of a name for global tourists - the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple Museum, Thiruvananthapuram. The lengthy name itself could lend it that special flavour, as in the case of museums like the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, in Spain's Basque country, or the Philbrook Museum of Art, Oklahoma. The astonishing find of a mountain of gold coins, diamonds, ruby, emerald and vaults-full of antique jewelry at the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple here over the past week has triggered calls for a museum on the lines of a Musee du Louvre in Paris or the British Museum, displaying the sheer magnitude of the wealth of the Travancore kingdom that was dedicated to the temple's Vaishnavite deity. And what more, unlike a Louvre that has its fame somewhat anchored to 16th century Florentine artist Leonardo da Vinci, Thiruvananthapuram's Sree Padmanabha Swamy Museum could draw in the crowds for the fame of one of its own - Raja Ravi Varma , of Travancore's Kilimanoor palace who was known for his fusion of Indian traditions in painting with European academic art. That is not to speak of the voluminous ornaments that have just been discovered in the cellars of the temple. "Future generations must see it, and that is the duty of this generation", says AR Udaya Varman, Kerala's director of museums, who feels the state capital deserves a museum on the lines of the Louvre or the British Museum, given the incredible array of antique ornaments in the Padmanabha Swamy temple's vaults. "Some of the finds in the temple are historical items like coins of ancient times, and other such artifacts. Some of these are not essential items for temple rituals and can be displayed for future generations to learn history and for research purposes", Varman told ET. Local MP Shashi Tharoor is another supporter of the idea of establishing a museum to display the temple's glittering collection of exclusive antiques. One of the Supreme Court observers in charge of making an inventory of the Padmanabha Swamy temple treasures, CS Rajan expressed his first-hand experience of viewing the ornaments as "indescribable". Not everyone is in support of implementing the museum idea immediately. "There is no sense in saying let us move it to a museum. Let us first have a museum on the lines of the Louvre before displaying the temple finds. Let us wait patiently until that happens", says historian MG Sasibhooshan. The manner in which Kerala has leveraged ordinary resources to do the extraordinary, like matching the developed world on parameters like literacy and infant mortality despite a low per capita income, is proof that the state should not be underestimated in aiming for the skies. Shortly after Paris introduced the novelty of free cycles across the city, a near-similar service was rolled out in Thiruvananthapuram. A contender for the Louvre could just be the next surprise for Paris from Thiruvananthapuram.

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