Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple
With its traditional Dravidian- and Kerala-style temple architecture, complete with multiple shrines, inner sanctum, and ornate 16th-century central gopuram (tower), this Vishnu temple complex seems, at the outset, similar to other places of worship you’ll find throughout South India. But there’s an air of mystery to the place that’s made it particularly famous. Despite the temple being mentioned in several ancient Hindu texts and works of literature, no one appears to knows when it was actually built, though historians do seem to agree that this is the legendary “Golden Temple” that was renowned for its vast wealth. And it still is: several of the temple’s underground vaults have yielded an estimated $22 billion in gold and jewels, including solid gold coconuts studded with precious gems, golden animal figures and idols, bags of gold coins, and diamond necklaces stretching over a dozen feet long. One chamber, though, has yet to be opened: guarded by a pairing of two cobras, the infamous Vault B was believed to have been sealed shut centuries ago by sound waves generated by sacred chanting—the door has no visible bolts, locks, or handles—and has never been opened again. It’s said that if it is, there will be catastrophic consequences to follow—so it remains to be seen if the temple elders will ever allow modern curiosity to outweigh the ancient legends.
By Sandra Ramani, AFAR Contributor