The Supreme Court today ordered a complete inventory of all jewellery and ornaments used to adorn the statue of Lord Ayyappa at Kerala's iconic Sabarimala temple. The top court appointed a retired judge - CN Ramachandran Nair - to supervise the exercise and said it was "only concerned with security of jewels... inventory to be made and report given to us, we will keep it in a sealed cover".
The top court was hearing an appeal by a section of the Pandalam royal family - in whose palace, legend has it, Lord Ayyappa resided during his incarnation as the king's son - that claimed the jewellery belonged to the family and was during festivals these jewels adorn the Lord.
The court was also hearing an appeal by the family to appoint a panel for administration of the temple
In today's hearing, after studying a list submitted by the Kerala government, the top court said, "So much donations... but temple is getting only 16 ornaments?"
To this a lawyer appearing for the royals drew a distinction between jewellery belonging to the family and ornaments with the Temple Board. The lawyer also accused the Kerala government of interfering in temple affairs.
Taking note of internal bickering and litigation within the family, on Wednesday the top court had asked the Kerala government to suggest measures to safeguard the jewellery.
The court noted the jewellery did not belong to the royal family (or any others) but to Lord Ayyappa and it may appoint a custodian till disputes were resolved.
Raja Raja Varma, a member of the royal family, had sought custody after alleging senior members of the temple board may misuse the ornaments and jewellery.
On Thursday, the Kerala government indicated it would comply with top court orders. However, the government also pointed out that the sacred ornaments were already under police protection at the Pandalam Palace.
"There is no need for government to take custody of sacred ornaments... it is kept in Pandalam Palace under government security. If Supreme Court gives direction, we will abide," Kadakamaplly Surendran, a Kerala Devaswom Board minister, told reporters.
"If Supreme Court says more security is needed, then that will also be done," he added.
A representative of the palace also said the ornaments were kept under police cover and the palace was not concerned about its safety.
With input from PTI