$22 billion Kerala Hindu temple treasure brings riches and challenges

By Reuters Staff
August 19, 2011

(Hindu devotees visit the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Kerala state in southern India July 30, 2011, as commandos guard perhaps one of the world's greatest treasures to surface in recent times/James Pomfret)

A stream of bare-chested religious devotees step gingerly through metal detectors at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Kerala as armed commandos with AK-47s guard perhaps one of the world’s greatest treasures to surface in recent times. For months now, following a court order to prise open subterranean vaults sealed for centuries at the heart of sleepy Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of balmy Kerala, shell-shocked experts have been coming to terms with the vast hidden hoard, estimated at one trillion Indian rupees, or $22 billion.

In a nation where 500 million people are still mired in poverty, the find has been a revelation, stoking debate over how to best safeguard and use this newly discovered wealth at a time of financial uncertainty and modernisation across India. Put in a broader context, the find in the lush, spice-growing but relatively undeveloped Kerala, where infrastructure is patchy and per capita income lags richer northern states, could salvage the state’s rickety finances, lift millions out of poverty and even help wipe out a quarter of India’s overall fiscal deficit.

The treasure, an accumulation of religious offerings to the Hindu deity Lord Vishnu, includes a four-foot high gold idol studded with emeralds, gold and silver ornaments and sacks of diamonds. “It’s been a real shocker,” said Manish Arora, a devotee in a white cotton mundu walking bare-foot outside the seven-storey 16th century pyramidal temple complex. “Nobody thought there’d be money like that here. They should use it for public welfare, for development.”

But in a deeply spiritual and religious country, where even photographic documentation of the stash is barred to avoid defiling the site, any decision to remove the treasure from the temple vaults and its deity could prove highly controversial.

Read the full story by James Pomfret here.

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One comment

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I strongly disagree to the author’s comment about Kerala being relatively undeveloped. Kerala is the Indian state with the highest literacy rate and human development index at par with the major metropolitan cities of the world, with a very strong service and health sector and agricultural revenue if not industrial income. Get your facts right before you publish your article, or come visit Kerala and find out for yourself. Thank you.

Posted by Navnith | Report as abusive