Officials in India have begun the lengthy process of creating a digital inventory of priceless treasures unearthed from vaults in the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Kerala.
Five vaults at the temple in Kerala were opened last year amidst a frenzy of speculation and excitement… as their contents were rumoured to contain a king’s ransom. In a tale that could have been lifted straight from Indiana Jones (please forgive the pun in the heading…) local legend has long held that vast riches were interred in the walls and vaults of the temple by the Maharajas of Travancore over many years. The current incumbent is the splendidly titled Maharajah of Travancore, Uthradan Thirunaal Marthanda Varma. I bet any money (including all of his) that he has an amazing ‘tash…
A local court has today ordered the sixth vault to remain closed until the contents of the first five are digitised, and unsurprisingly, security is tight at the temple, as the contents of five vaults alone are now believed to be worth a staggering 900bn rupees, or about £12bn…. roughly the amount it will cost to host the London Olympics…
Neither the state of Kerala nor the descendants of the Travancore royal family, who are the custodians of the temple, have made any claim on the treasure, which they say is the property of the temple and its deity.
In July last year the BBC reported Indian media was awash with wildly speculative reports about the treasures buried in the temple’s six underground vaults. They talk about “very old gold chains, diamonds and precious stones which cannot be valued in terms of money”.
One report talks of 450 golden pots, 2,000 rubies and jewel-studded crowns, 400 gold chairs and the statue of a deity studded with 1,000 diamonds. Apparently, all this amounted to 65 “treasure sacks” which was then estimated to be worth some $20bn – more than India’s annual education budget. There were stories of curses, charms, and snakes that protect the loot… obviously.
Soutik Biswas described how; “A bit of drama accompanied the opening of the vault then. The rusting locks were broken after a two-and-a-half hour effort and an ambulance waited outside to attend to any “emergency”. Floodlights and torches lit up the place, and fans pumped air into the vaults. Officials found “four chests made of brass which contained old coins”; a “granary-like thing” full of gold and silver coins; gold pots; and a six-chamber wooden chest full of diamonds, rubies, emeralds and other precious stones. They also found more than 300 gold pots.”
Perhaps to add an air of mystery and intrigue, non Hindus are not allowed to enter the temple complex, and the Indiana Jones theory also goes back in time; as early as 1933, Emily Gilchrist Hatch wrote a travel guide for Travancore, recording that the “temple had a vast amount of wealth lain in vaults”. She wrote that 25 years earlier, temple authorities would open the vaults and use the wealth “when the state required additional money”. She also added = that a group of people tried to enter the vaults once, found it “infested with cobras” and fled. Why did it have to be snakes?