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.
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. More:
Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy said the treasure would remain with the temple. “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,” Chandy told reporters on Sunday.
Chandy said the police would patrol the shrine 24X7 and a control room had already started functioning. “Permanent security arrangements will be put in place only after consultations with the chief priest of the temple and the Travancore king who is the caretaker of the shrine,” the CM said.