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A former royal family in India last week won its struggle with the state government of Kerala in a long-running dispute over control of a famous temple and its treasures, following a ruling by the country’s supreme court.
The Hindu sacred site, located in Kerala’s capital city Thiruvananthapuram, is renowned for its vast collections of gold coins, precious stones and jewellery. When one of the temple’s vaults was opened in 2011, researchers discovered riches that were valued at more than £16bn.
Rumours surround the possible contents of another vault that still remains unopened at the site, although tradition also states that, if this is breached, it will unleash a curse on the state.
Rights to the temple had been contested since the death of the last ruling maharaja of Travancore, Sri Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, in 1991.
When he died a dispute arose over whether the maharaja’s younger brother, Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, could inherit his sibling’s title and fortune. That issue became increasingly heated following the 2011 discovery, at which point the Keralan state government also claimed ownership of the temple.
That year Kerala’s high court found in favour of the authorities and dismissed the Travancore family’s claim regarding the temple.
India’s supreme court however reversed that decision last week and has reinstated the family’s right to control of the temple as “rulers of Travancore”.
A statement from the court said: “We allow the appeal of the royal family of Travancore. Death does not affect shebaitship [management of the financial affairs of religious deities] of the Travancore family.”
The court suggested the family should now establish a committee to manage the temple complex and decide what to do both with its existing wealth and the potential contents of the unopened vault.
The BBC reports that Travancore family member Gauri Lakshmi Bai said the court’s ruling was a triumph for the faithful of the area. “A large number of devotees had prayed for us. The judgment is their victory,” she added.