Treasure worth billions found in Indian temple’s secret chambers

2011-07-02 10:55

New Delhi – Precious stones, jewellery, gold and silver estimated to be worth several billion dollars have been found in the secret underground vaults of an ancient temple in southern India, a temple official said today.

An 18-foot-long necklace, 536 kilogrammes of 18th century gold coins, diamond-studded plates, rubies and emeralds were found in the vaults of the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala state, the Hindustan Times reported.

The vaults were opened after the Supreme Court ordered the state government to take over the temple’s assets from a trust controlled by the royal family of Travancore.

A seven-member, court-appointed panel is conducting an inventory of the vaults.

The temple has six underground chambers, of which two are opened daily, and two twice a year. The two chambers opened on Thursday and Friday were last looked at about 130 years ago, the temple’s executive officer VK Harikumar said.

The treasure recovered so far could be worth 500 billion rupees (11 billion dollars), the Hindustan Times quoted sources as saying.

But Harikumar said the estimates being discussed were imaginary, and that the valuation of the rare gems would be done by experts who would submit a report to the Supreme Court.

Some experts have questioned the quick estimates saying it would take several weeks to make an assessment. “Antique value cannot be fixed overnight,” PJ Cherian, director of the Kerala Council for Historical Research, was quoted as saying.

The inspections at the temple began after the Supreme Court endorsed a Kerala High Court order asking the state government to take over the temple and its assets.

The High Court order was given after a local lawyer, Sundar Rajan, filed a petition saying the temple should be taken over as the trust running it did not have the capacity to ensure adequate security for the temple’s assets.

The Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple was built in the 16th century by the kings of Travancore. The descendents of the royal family had appealed to the Supreme Court against the petition for the take over.

Princely states in India merged with the Indian republic after the country gained independence from British rule in 1947.

Initially, the princes were allowed to retain their titles and some property and given funds in lieu of the revenue they earlier earned.

But the funds and their titles were abolished by the government in 1971.

The descendants of the Travancore royal family, however, continued to control the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple through the trust. 

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