Gold coins dating back to the era of the East India Company, sacks of diamonds, and solid-gold idols are among the treasures that have been found in the sealed vaults of a 16th century Hindu temple, according to temple officials and news reports.
European Pressphoto Agency
Police officials check security at an Indian temple where a treasure trove was discovered.
The treasure, which had been sealed for over a century, is estimated to be worth at least $22 billion – making Trivandrum’s Sree Padmanabhaswamy perhaps India’s richest temple.
But if this news evoked images of a gung-ho archeologist on a daring expedition, you’d be on the wrong track. The extraordinary discovery was spearheaded not by Kerala’s own Indiana Jones but by fine legal minds of India’s Supreme Court. Treasure-hunting marks a first for India’s top court, which in recent years has raised its voice and expanded its policy reach on issues ranging from land acquisition, to black money to malnutrition – positions that have sometimes pitted it against elected officials.
Despite the Supreme Court’s enterprising spirit, it was difficult to see this one coming. The court dispatched a team of seven – former judges and temple staff among them – to open the temple’s secret chambers, the first of which was unlocked June 27. Of the temple’s six chambers, four have been opened so far. The remaining two are likely to be examined between Monday and Tuesday.
Although most observers suspected the temple’s vaults contained a treasure of sorts, few expected to find possessions worth several billions of dollars there. The most precious finding so far appears to be a golden statue of the Hindu god Vishnu, studded with precious gems. A golden rope, a golden bow and golden coconut shells were among the most peculiar findings, which also included many precious bangles and necklaces, emeralds and antique silvers.
It will be a while before the temple’s custodians get more accurate estimates of the value and origins of the treasure. V.K Harikumar, a top temple official and member of the Supreme Court’s team of explorers, told India Real Time that they are preparing an inventory of the goods found in the temple’s chambers, which they will present to the Supreme Court next week.
The Supreme Court’s archeological venture came in response to a legal petition to audit the temple’s wealth that was filed as part of a dispute over who should administer the holy shrine.
The temple is currently run by the descendants of Kerala’s former monarchy, the Travancore, which ruled an area roughly equivalent to the southern state until India’s independence in 1947. At that time, India’s princely states were prevailed upon to cede ruling rights and merge with India. The erstwhile royal family’s continued management of the temple has been called into question in recent years, with some arguing it should become public property. The outcome of the Supreme Court’s audit is likely to raise the stakes further.
Whatever happens, Mr. Harikumar said the treasure is likely to stay with the temple. State officials agreed. “The wealth belonged to the temple and it will be preserved where it was found. There is religious and historical significance to the findings. The state will ensure its security,” said Oommen Chandy, Kerala’s recently elected chief minister, according to The Times of India.
Mr. Chandy said his government will take care of security around the temple, which devotees and onlookers swarmed over the weekend hoping to get a peek at its piles of gold.
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Via: India Real Time