(Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, capital of the southern Indian state of Kerala February 18, 2011/Sivaram V)

Investigators plan to pry open the final vault hidden deep under a centuries-old Indian Hindu temple as police guarded round the clock the shrine where billions of dollars worth of treasure has been discovered. Over the last week a seven-member team of investigators has broken into five of the six secret subterranean vaults piled high with jewels that have lain untouched for hundreds of years.

Onlookers and devotees thronged the shrine in the bustling centre of Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of India’s southern Kerala state, as officials said treasure worth more than $20 billion had been found — more than India’s education budget.  Sacks filled with diamonds were piled next to tonnes of gold coins and jewellery, media reported, in the vaults of the 16th century Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, the royal chapel of the former rulers of Travancore, now part of Kerala state.

“The current market value of the articles found so far by the committee members would be roughly 900 billion rupees,” one temple official who was not authorised to speak to the media told Reuters. Investigators searched the vaults to draw up an inventory of the riches because of worry about security but they had no idea of the amount of treasure they would find.

(Entrance to Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple at Thiruvananthapuram, 22 December 2007/P.K.Niyogi)