Controversy surrounds discovery of $22 billion in riches in Indian temple

Gold and jewels worth $22 billion were recently unearthed in a 16th-century Indian temple Sree Padmanabhaswamy, inciting a fierce debate about what should happen to the loot, reported The Christian Science Monitor.

Investigators are still evaluating the hoards of jewels, gold trinkets, coins and gem-encrusted statues of gods and goddesses discovered in secret vaults underneath a Hindu temple in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the southern coastal state of Kerala, India.

The treasure’s discovery is straight out of a Hollywood movie and includes 2,205 pounds of gold coins -- some up to 400 years old -- sacks of diamonds and an 18-foot solid gold decoration that weighs 77 pounds. The total value of the goods is estimated to be worth double India’s education budget this school year. The enormous amount of gold has made the Sri Padmanabha temple the richest in all of India.

Descendants of the royal family of Travancore, who formerly presided over the area, are the custodians of the vault. The valuables likely came from this royal family donating their riches to the temple, as well as contributions from wealthy devotees who travelled the trade routes, over hundreds of years.

While the loot – kept under lock and key for about 150 years -- has been on public record for quite some time, the officials who opened the chambers were still shocked by the enormous wealth that lay therein.

A lawyer concerned with protecting with riches brought the matter to court, which ordered a seven-member task force to open the vault and take inventory of the contents. Currently, groups of armed Indian police officers are patrolling the area and metal detectors have been installed. Thus far five chambers have been opened, with one remaining. At this point, $22 billion may turn out to be a low estimate of the riches’ worth.

This begs the question: Since millions of Indian citizens live in abject poverty, what should become of the treasure? While some religious leaders want it to go to the temple, many believe it should be used to help the less fortunate. Kerala has few major industries and its economy is struggling.

"The wealth should be used in public interest," V.R. Krishna Iyer, a retired Supreme Court judge, said to the Associated Press. "The treasure should be handed over to a national trust and spent for the welfare of the poor."

The government claims it will let the temple keep the gold, even offering to supply security to ensure its protection.

"The treasures are the property of the temple. We will ensure the utmost security for the temple and its wealth," Kerala's top elected leader, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, told the Associated Press.

Tourists have thronged the area as a result of the find.

Tagged in: gold, india, jewels, treasure, loot, kerala, hindu, sree padmanabhaswamy, temple,


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