Treasure trove found in Indian temple, said to be worth billions

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India, (Reuters) – A treasure  trove of gold, diamonds and precious stones hidden for centuries  was discovered in the underground vaults of a temple in southern  India, a temple official said yesterday, as authorities  scrambled armed police to guard the shrine.

Local media said that the search team’s finds included a  four-feet-tall gold statue studded with emeralds, 15-feet-long  gold necklaces and jewel-encrusted crowns. The estimated value  of the hoard is 750 billion rupees ($17 billion), but officials  said they were yet to assess the findings.

“Most of the articles found in the temple are offerings made  by devotees and wealth the erstwhile rulers of the Travancore  princely state had stored in the temple,” the temple official  said on conditions of anonymity.

The treasure was found in the 16th century Sree  Padmanabhaswamy temple in southern Kerala state, the royal  chapel of the former rulers of Travancore, now part of Kerala.

Hundreds of armed police were deployed around the temple and  metal detectors were set up at the entrance after the first  reports of the treasure came out on Saturday.

The value put to the treasure is more than what the federal  government spends on education annually.

Intellectuals and religious leaders debated on how to use  the wealth. A mob attacked the house of an activist who demanded  it be used to public purposes.

Several temples in India have billions of dollars worth of  wealth as rich devotees and royalty donate gold and other  precious objects, and run schools, colleges and hospitals.

The Tirumala temple in eastern Andhra Pradesh state is  reported to have 3,000 kg of gold, a third of which it deposited  with the State Bank of India last year.

The royal family still controls the Sree Padmanabhaswamy  temple, unlike other temples in Kerala which are managed by the  government. The government appoints priests and scrutinises  budgets. The vaults were searched after a local lawyer petitioned a  court to order the government to take over the temple as it did  not have adequate security to protect its wealth. India’s top  court had then set up a committee to open the long-sealed vaults  and take stock of the treasure.

Temple Affairs Minister V.S. Sivakumar said the government  would ask the Supreme Court on how to maintain the treasure.

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