Indian temple reveals £12 billion treasure trove
Sealed in by thick stones, a huge hoard of riches has been discovered beneath a Hindu temple in India. How did it get there and what should be done with it now?
Indiana Jones made some great discoveries in his time, but he never came across gold and diamonds like these. And while his adventures were fiction, this is an amazing true story: beneath an Indian temple's 324 carved stone pillars, subterranean vaults have been found to contain ancient treasure worth £12 billion.
Five of the six secret caverns have already been opened and their contents recorded and valued: treasure that has lain untouched and unnoticed for over a hundred years.
Sacks filled with diamonds sit next to heaps of gold coins and jewellery in the vaults of the 16th Century Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Travancore, formerly a princely state but now part of the state of Kerala in South India.
Where does such wealth come from? The temple was on lucrative trade routes that passed through the region for many centuries. 'Traders, who used to come from other parts of the country and abroad to buy spices and other commodities, made handsome offerings to the deity for not only his blessings but also to please the then rulers,' says PJ Cherian, director of Kerala's Council for Historical Research.
The local rulers, the Maharajahs of Travancore, stored this treasure as an offering to the god Vishnu. Sealed in stone, it has remained undiscovered until now. Two of the chambers are reckoned to have remained unopened for 130 years.
The current investigation was demanded by a local Hindu who accused the temple's trustees of failing to provide adequate security. India's Supreme Court ordered a team to assess the value of the objects stored in its cellars. But no one was prepared for what they found.
Fearing robbery, the High Court in Kerala has asked the state government to take over temple security and two police battalions now guard the site, turning the temple into a fortress.
Meanwhile, a debate has started over what should be done with the hoard, said to be worth more than India's annual education budget.
The Travancore royal family say it belongs to them. As servants of the temple's god, Padmanabhaswamy, their ancestors entrusted the wealth to the temple in good faith.
Kerala's chief minister agrees, promising the treasure will remain the property of the temple after an inventory has been made.
But in a country blighted by mass poverty - there are more poor people in India than in sub-Saharan Africa - many believe the glittering riches should be turned into another currency: aid for the poor.
- Who should the treasure belong to – the temple or the poor?
- 'The love of money is the root of all evil'. Do you agree?
- You have £12 billion to make the world a better place. Come up with some ideas about how you would spend it.
- Consider how religions use money. Sometimes they help the poor, sometimes they build great palaces, churches and temples. Are religions just businesses by another name? Buddha and Jesus had no money; but how can religions survive or promote their message without it? Gather evidence then express your views in a piece called: 'Religion and wealth – can the two live together?'
Some People Say...
“Greed spoils every discovery.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Does the Maharajah have any power?
- Not now. There was a public outcry when he tried to retain control of the temple by citing a special law. His appeal was rejected, because Maharajahs no longer have special status in India and are treated like ordinary citizens.
- Can anyone visit the temple?
- No, only Hindus can enter. There's a huge tank of water on the approach road where devotees bathe in preparation. But there are plenty of stalls selling religious souvenirs for tourists. Apparently it's especially atmospheric early in the morning.
- And how much is the treasure worth?
- So far the valuation is around £12 billion, but the valuation and investigation is still going on, so that figure will probably rise. It's already enough to need round-the-clock guards, though.
- Financially profitable
- A state on the south-west coast of India, with the highest literacy rate in India. It's also a popular tourist destination.
- India's Supreme Court
- The highest judicial body in India. It is there to protect the Constitution and is the highest court of appeal.
- A Sanskrit word meaning 'Great King'. Before independence in 1947, India was divided into 600 princely states, some of which were ruled by Maharajahs. How powerful they were depended on the size and the wealth of the state.
- The supreme god in some forms of Hinduism, described as the one who supports, sustains and governs the universe and originates and develops all elements within.
- With a billion followers, Hinduism is the world's third largest religion. It contains a diverse set of religious beliefs, traditions and philosophies developed over centuries of cultural and religious interaction in India. The Bhagavad Gita is perhaps Hinduism's most famous holy book.