A treasure trove of gold, diamonds and precious stones reportedly worth billions was discovered in the underground vaults of a temple in southern India, an official said Sunday, according to Reuters. Authorities were working to step up security to protect the valuable treasure.
The riches found deep in vaults under the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, are thought to have been there for more than a century, buried by the Maharajahs of Travancore, according to BBC News.
The treasure included a solid gold statue studded with emeralds, three diamond-studded crowns and 1,000 gold necklaces, one of which was said to be over 5 meters long and weighted 2.5 kg, according to the Irish Times, which cited local media.
Inspectors said they would be cataloguing the treasure for at least another week, and no final official valuation has been released while the inventory continues, BBC News said. Unofficial estimates vary, ranging from an early valuation of 25 billion rupees, or $500 million, to 750 billion rupees. Historians say that assessing the true value of these objects is likely to be difficult.
Kerala Chief Secretary K. Jayakumar gave a preliminary estimate of the value of the treasure of 500 billion rupees, or about $11 billion, which would make the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple one of the richest Indian temples, if not the richest, AFP reported. But Jayakumar added that the final value of the treasure can only be confirmed by archeologists when they finish studying it.
The thousands of necklaces, coins, precious stones and art pieces were found in at least five underground vaults at the temple.
"We are yet to open one more secret chamber which has not been opened for nearly 140 years," Jayakumar told AFP.
The Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple was built in the 16th Century by the kings who ruled over what was then the kingdom of Travancore, according to BBC News. Local legend says that the Travancore kings sealed immense riches within the walls and vaults of the temple.
Since Indian independence, the temple has been controlled by a trust run by the descendants of the Travancore royal family. After 1947 the kingdom of Travancore merged with the Cochin, and eventually became the state of Kerala.
The inspections at the temple began after the Indian Supreme Court appointed a panel to enter the vaults and take inventory of the objects there, including two chambers last believed to have been accessed about 130 years ago.
The Supreme Court also endorsed a ruling by the high court in Kerala, which ordered the state government to take over the temple and its contents from the Travancore royal trust. It also ordered the trust to hand over responsibility for the temple's security to the police.
The news about the treasure at the temple has forced police to step up security measures, according to AFP.
"Now it's known all over the world that the Padmanabhaswamy temple has jewels worth billions of rupees we have decided to assign it maximum security," Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said, according to AFP.