Monday, September 12, 2011

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace by Tony Madrid

Whether it is the occasion for national rejoice or moaning; British people flock to Buckingham Palace; it is here the national icon of Great Britain; the queen resides and standing on the Palace balcony she addresses the Public. British monarchy is the only one on earth that has been consistently loved by its people. The Buckingham Palace is not just the house of the royal family; it is a complex structure of many offices, administrative offices of monarchy, residences of staff, galleries, guest rooms, reception halls etc. The palace has a considerable portion left for the public to visit. In the course of 4 centuries this palace has been subjected to many expansions and modifications.

 A real mansion

This grand palace is 24 meters in height; 108 meters long and 120 meters in depth and has 775 rooms in total! These include 19 State Rooms, 52Royal and Guest-rooms, 188 bed rooms, two throne rooms and 92 offices. State Rooms are offices for executing the official duties of the monarch. More than 50,000 people visit this palace every year as guests (this number does not include the tourists who flock to the palace for sight- seeing) for banquets, lunches and other ceremonies like the Royal Garden party. The artifacts that decorate the walls and rooms of this palace is enough to enthrall any museums in the world; the portraits arranged are in the same order as Queen Victoria set them at her reign.

Buckingham Palace Guard by Márcio Cabral de Moura


 Buckingham Palace is not just a big mansion; it is history on brick and mortar; a symbol of an only monarchy; for ever loved by its people. The original structure of this palace was built by the Duke of Buckingham in 1705 for residence in the manor of Ebury known as Eia; a marshy place watered by River Tyburn (This River was later made to flow through submerged tunnel beneath the palace yard; the submerged River Tyburn quietly flows unseen and unknown!.

This mansion remained a private property for about 150 years until got acquired by King George III in 1761 for his Queen consort Charlotte to reside; (14 of the George III’s 15 children were born in this house) thus this mansion got yet another synonym; the’ Queen’s House’. King George III remodeled it as per the design of William Chambers in 1762.

Queens Carraige at the Royal Mews in London by Michael McDonough

(Queen Charlotte (1761 to 1818); who became the owner of the mansion (Mecklenburg- Strelitz was her full name) was a lover of arts and an amateur botanist; it was she who founded the Royal Botanical Gardens – the largest garden in London;  a World Heritage Site. She was Electress Consort of Hanover (who had the voting right to elect the Roman King). The Palace got yet another name as ‘Queen’s House due to the residence of Queen Charlotte.

Later King George IV started some remodeling works that lasted 47 years and was completed in 1827 under Nash (the over-shoot of budget cost Nash his job). During World War II the palace cruelly bombed by the Germans; a chapel attached to the palace was damaged; it was at that site the present gallery was built.

Every palace has its day

Buckingham Palace Guard by Márcio Cabral de Moura

The king who repaired it for half a century never moved in to it! A fire that broke out did extensive damage in 1834; however with the fire the bad-time of the mansion expired and fortune started to shine upon it in the shape of Queen Victoria who moved in and made the building her residential and administrative office.   It was in 1837 the mansion got readied to become the Royal Palace to accommodate Queen Victoria on her accession.

A Guinness-book record

Queen Victoria who ruled Britain for 63 years and 7 months holds the un broken record as the only woman who ruled a land for such a long period; she was nicknamed as the Grandmother of Europe as her 9 children as well as 26 out of 42 grand children were married to various royalties of Europe!). The chapel situated in the compound was flattened by German Bombers during WWII; and at that site the ‘Queens’s Gallery was built; where royal exhibits of the palace are displayed.

Queen Elizabeth (Elizabeth Alexandra Mary)

Victoria Memorial from Buckingham Palace by H M Cotterill

The present incumbent of the Palace is Queen Elizabeth II; she is second only to Queen Victoria for the title of being the longest ruler of England (from 6 Feb 1952 to present). The queen was born in April 21, 1926, daughter to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Bowes Lyon. Queen Elizabeth is mother to four children (Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward). As the monarch to British Crown she holds many titles; she is Constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states like Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica etc, head of 54 member Common-wealth nations including India and she is Supreme Governor of the Church of England. British people are eager to celebrate her diamond jubilee in 2012 (on completion of 60 years of reign on June 2012).

Blame it on Buckingham!

The current Royal Family consists of The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The history of this monarchy begins from 400 AD when the Scottish Monarchy was established; that lasted till 1603 giving way to the present incumbents. Centuries go by; still people are left with only two choices; either hate to love this centuries old legacy or love to hate it; but no one can afford to ignore it. When a member of the royal family sneezes; the whole world catches cold; can the media stay behind; they also start squeezing and pulling their elaborate noses spread world- wide! Blame it on Buckingham the exquisite palace and the legacy attached to it.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Padmanabhaswamy Temple

Padmanabhaswamy Temple Thiruvananthapuram

Shree Padmanabha Swami Temple at Thiruvananthapuram is famous for its antiquity and grandeur; it is the temple of the royal family members of Travancore Empire. Located at the most coveted spot in Trivandrum; this grand temple attracts millions of pilgrims from all over India. Here in this temple; Lord Vishnu is carved in a reclining posture on Anantha - the mythical serpent with thousand heads- hence this temple is known as Anantha Padmanabha Swamy Temple; meaning Lord Vishnu who rest on Anantha. All on a sudden Padmanabha Temple has shot to international fame for the treasures discovered from the sealed secret vaults within its premises and the priceless articles kept in them unopened for centuries.

There were rumors already in circulation the temple housed articles of great value. At present the ball set rolling by a petition filed by one T.P Sundara Rajan- a retired I.P.S officer- before the Honorable Supreme Court of India; seeking proper assessment and recording of the articles stored in the secret vaults within the temple structure. He also alleged that the members of the Royal family were pilfering the un- valuable wealth. Admitting the plea the court issued directions for opening of the secret vaults for verification and recording of the materials. But what has been so far found beat all the speculations by leaps and bounds. They were bedazzled by a treasure trove of rare and invaluable materials which could be communicated to the public by media briefing alone as cameras were not permitted inside! Now that it is estimated to be of 1000 billions of rupees ($ 20 billion) or rupees one lakh crores!

The team deputed for inventory taking constituted of big guns like two former judges of the Kerala High-Court (Justice M N Krishnan and Justice C S Rajan; Observers Sri Jayakumar (Chief Secretary) and Harikumar; representing Archaeological department, Sri T P Sundara Rajan (the petitioner), eminent gemologist etc. Fire fighters and medical persons were also deputed in case of emergency and supplying of light and oxygen in to the cellars. The vaults were dark and the cellars entrances had just enough space for one man to enter; cellars’ entrances difficult to find as un-recognizably paved with granite slabs. These slabs were engraved with secret codes and symbols which could not be decoded by anybody.

The experts deputed were first assigned for registering the details of the inventory and they are not entrusted with assessment of the value of the find. As all these items were of extreme antiquity; valuation may be a near impossible affair or at least require international expertise. Of the total eight vaults (numbered from A to F) the team could survey seven only so far (two of them were being daily opened for storing pooja materials and had no secrecy). Vault no. ‘A’ with its underground cellars contained really wonderful inventories like a shawl made of golden fiber at the length of Sri Padmanabha statue (18 feet in length and 35 kg in weight) was just one among them! Of late the court has passed orders for assigning value of the materials (which is still in the process).

A Vishnu Idol fully studded with gems and diamonds (estimated value Rs. 500 crores), A Krishna Idol made of pure gold, a golden neck-lace that is 18 feet in length, 200 silver pots. hundred thousand antique gold coins pertaining to various nations and various centuries (even coins minted by Napoleon were present in the collection), 20 bag-full of precious stones including rubies, diamonds etc; all safely packed in teak-wood cases. Pieces of one gold barrel (it is believed that the kings of Travancore used to bath in water filled in this golden drum at the time of ascent to the chair), crowns embedded with rare gems

There is one more no go area in this temple where even priests have no admission; that is the space between the main idol and the wall; no one is sure whether there is a floor there or there is a deep cavern made to trap the encroachers! There is a story doing round that one priest once tied a ring in a long thread suspended in to it and the ring kept on going down till the thread’s length finished; yet bottom was not found. The frightened priest retreated from his experiment. He said later that there was a sound akin to sea-wind emanating from the cavern!

The dark two cellars found had doors made of metal and their floors paved with granite slabs; certain slabs were actually camouflaged doors those led to the basement cellars carefully built to deceive encroachers however skilled were they in their ‘profession’. The team of experts had to postpone their work several times as it was difficult to locate and enter in to the chambers through the manhole opening. They had to bring advanced equipments, oxygen and many other precautions for entry. Two days work yielded of articles on about 1000 crores ($250 million).

On Monday (4-7-2011) at 1-30 pm after the morning rituals of the temple the team opened a vault called ‘nityadi’ (meaning day today dealing) and recorded valuables worth about 1000 crores. Findings of this vault include decorations meant for the idol, vessels etc. This vault is located below the ‘Ottakkaal Mandapam’ meaning single stone platform; yes as the name denotes this huge platform is carved out of a single rock.

Details run like this 100 numbers of ‘Sarappoli-manikya-mala’ golden laces studded with precious stones), Two golden lamps (nilavilakku) weighing 15 kg each, vessels used for daily rituals, golden pots, diamond chains, plates made of gold, silver etc, golden bird plate, golden pan, stirrer (chattukam), golden rose-water-bowls, crowns studded with diamonds, golden eagle idol, conch shells with clockwise twist (valampiri shanku –an extremely rare and costly variety) golden bells, flower vases etc. By three pm the surveying was compete- as per the custom this vault can be opened only after the rituals of the temple is over and the door is closed. These special decorations were only used on rare occasions.

The works related to opening of chamber B (which is believed to be closed for centuries) will be done only on 8th July. Justice T N Krishnan observer to the Supreme Court of India has stated that a meeting held on Friday will take a decision regarding the modalities to be worked out to open the chamber that is guarded by hard grill of steel In the mean time the members of the Royal family has approached the court against declaring the findings in public and pleading a stay of the team in discussing things with the public and media.

A ‘Deva-prashnam’ (seeking of astrological help in finding god’s will when in doubt regarding procedures of the temple) of the was held and the priests held a view that the deity was angry about the whole affairs and any further encroachments may invite the wrath of god; retaliation can be as serious as the annihilation the family of the encroachers! An order from a court is no excuse for entering in to god’s territory –Honorable Supreme Court is only for the mortals and not for Sri Padmanabha!
At present the royal family has approached the Supreme Court for revoking its orders and maintaining status quo; which means that the chamber B may not be opened until further orders from the honorable court. What is in the court’s mind is only known by the gods; for the present bid farewell to the curiosities and hold your breath to watch what happens next.