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Focus: GS-I Art and Culture

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The Supreme Court held that the erstwhile Travancore royal family is the “human ministrant” or the shebait (manager) of the properties belonging to Sri Padmanabha, chief deity of the famed and fabulously rich Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Kerala.


  • Arguments were raised both to and fro on whether the 26th Constitutional Amendment, which banished rulers and privy purses, would nudge the temple and properties into the hands of the State.
  • The Kerala High Court, in 2011, directed the State to take over the temple and exhibit its treasures for public viewing in a museum.
  • Shebaitship was always in the royal family and the Ruler represented the unbroken line of shebaits.
  • The court defined ‘shebait’ as the “custodian of the idol, its earthly spokesman, its authorised representative entitled to deal with all its temporal affairs and to manage its property”.
  • It also ordered a second committee to be constituted to advise the administrative committee on policy matters.

Historical Reference

  • The court traced how the shebaitship descended from King Marthanda Varma, who rebuilt the temple and installed a new idol after a fire destroyed the temple in 1686.
  • It referred to how the King surrendered his kingdom in 1750 and assumed the role of ‘Padmanabhadasa’ after realising “the futility of battles as a means to an end and the conscious feeling that the Travancore he created was built on a foundation of sacrifice of the liver and limbs of countless numbers who fell due to him and for him.”

Padmanabhaswamy Temple

  • The Padmanabhaswamy temple is a Hindu temple located in Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital of Kerala, India.
  • The temple is built in an intricate fusion of the Chera style and the Dravidian style of architecture, featuring high walls, and a 16th-century gopura.
  • The temple is a replica of the Adikesava Perumal temple in Thiruvattar.
  • The principal deity is Padmanabhaswamy (Vishnu).

-Source: The Hindu

December 2023