Key to the past

Print edition : July 29, 2011

THE only rich source of history that could perhaps give insights into the accumulation of so much wealth at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple is generally gathering dust at the State's Archives Department in Thiruvananthapuram.

An important event in the long history of the temple was the construction of a granta pura (record room) within the temple compound itself as early as A.D. 1425 by the then king Veera Iravi Iravi Varma to store the Mathilakam (within the walls) records, as the temple records were known from then on.

A large section of it had been donated to the Archives Department in 1867, at the time of its formation. But we are not sure whether all the Mathilakam documents have been transferred to us, State Archives Director, J. Rejikumar, told Frontline.

Unfortunately, despite their invaluable antique and historical value, only a small portion of these grantas (bundles) of cadjan leaf records, written mostly in ancient scripts of Tamil and archaic Malayalam, have been deciphered. The translations of this small section of manuscripts by some scholars serve as a rare but inadequate primary source material on the temple and its rich traditions.

The rest of the nearly 30 lakh documents (3,000 bundles of records pertaining to the temple, each bundle containing over thousand cadjan records) coming under 70 heads, or a major portion of it, is now with the Archives Department. A project launched in 2005 to decipher and republish the manuscripts for the modern world was reportedly abandoned in 2009.

But we are now involved in a major project to transliterate, translate, digitise, edit and republish these invaluable records, which are part of our rich legacy, Rejikumar said.

According to Aswathi Thirunal Gouri Lakshmi Bayi, a member of the erstwhile ruling family of Travancore and the author of a recent, well-researched book on the temple, from early times the temple had employed two types of record writers, one group to record the proceedings and transactions of the Ettarayogam, a council of temple administrators that included the king, and another to write and preserve the records of the day-to-day functioning of the temple, maintain correct accounts of the temple treasury, and of revenue collections and expenditure and write down all other records connected with the functioning of the temple.

After a careful study of the Mathilakam documents, she writes that even minute details and events have been recorded in depth in the manuscripts and there are so many of them available today because the kings of Travancore shared an ingrained conservatism, respect for procedure, and precedent and attachment to age-old customs.

The book says that the keeping of these records were given so much importance that a very serious view was adopted even in the case of the slightest slip-up. All documents bore the name of the record-keepers, whose posts were hereditary in character, which contributed to an enhanced responsibility in the execution of the work.

The key to deciding the antique value of all the treasures in the temple vaults perhaps lies in reading these manuscripts well.

R. Krishnakumar

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