Secret Chambers, Buried Treasure, Vaults with untold wealth, tunnels that run for hundreds of Kilometers, Kings escaping from inside a granite mandapa - are all stuff of legends. Having been brought up on a healthy dose of fiction, most of us would have dreamed of being in such a situation and no wonder it news & rumors continue to capture the attention of the masses to this day. So when we were given a chance to explore one such within the Bhaktavatsala Permal Temple in Cheranmadevi, it was a dream come true and we literally jumped in.
It is quite true that most ancient temples did have some sort of secret chamber to protect their wealth, not just to hold their treasures - that they had in plenty as not only Kings, but chieftains and the rich, showered them with gifts. These the temple utilised as a kind of village bank lending money and collecting interests. It also helped that despite frequent wars among the kings, temples were relatively insulated from pillage till the advent of Gazhni upnorth and Allaudin Khilji down south. These chambers then became the refuge for the Gods themselves, as they were the easiest to hide the movable deities
For more interesting reading check this from Dr. R. Nagasamy - Underground Secret Treasuries in Ancient Temples
The last para is quite hair raising...” Lastly the late T. G. Aravamudan, the noted numismatist, and the author of ‘Portrait Sculpture in South India’ narrated to this author on more then one occasion, his experience in the Great temple of Tanjore, In his young age, he was once taken blind folded, through an underground passage in the Great temple of Tanjore. When he reached the secret chamber and his eyes opened, he found a large number of Chola bronzes of exqusite beauty stored there. He was able to recollect that the passage through which he went seemed to be between two granite walls. Later he made several attempts to locate the entrance to the passage in the temple but failed. It is not unlikely that many such underground secret treasure chambers exists but their discovery will remain only a chance find. “
Back to our little secret, the chamber is right underneath the arthamandabam in front of the sanctum
We managed to beat the power situation in the State till then, but then suddenly as we turned away towards the exit, it claimed victory - thereby taking us back in time by many centuries - to understand how it would have looked then - dark.
There right by the site of the door, it would have been impossible to spot in that lighting - but ASI had removed the false stone door and replaced it with a steel hinged one for our benefit.
The layout of the entire contraption was pretty awesome - the door opened to a sheer drop of about 7 feet. about a feet from the bottom, there would have been a false wall - which gave way to a narrow tunnel - just about enough to let me crawl and then it turned right ! Claustrophobic - was the word, am not particularly fond of dark passages and this was pumping my adrenalin rush through the roof.
The small path then opened to a decent shaped room - about 4 feet in height but pretty wide.
It was pretty dark - the powerful flash of the camera and the trusted 3 cell EverReady torch, tried their best to help us out.
With all the excitement of being inside an authentic relic chamber giving us a high, we were a bit disappointed at seeing an empty room, but if only it could tell us its tale !