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Secret temple treasure unlocked in Kerala

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5 July 2011 by Luke McCormick

A haul of forgotten treasure potentially worth billions of pounds has been unearthed in an ancient Hindu temple in Kerala.

After 150 years of being sealed, secret vaults have been opened by court order at the 16th century Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple located in the heart of Kerala's capital, Thiruvananthapuram.

Treasures unearthed so far include solid gold statues of gods and goddesses, bags of gold coins from the East India Company and Napoleonic times, and sacks full of diamonds from Burma and Sri Lanka.

Officials said the volume of gold and silver coins was so vast that they were being weighed by the sackful rather than being individually counted.

Also uncovered are a 500-kilogram gold sheaf, a 36-kilogram golden veil, a 6-metre long necklace and a ruby- and diamond-encrusted idol of Lord Vishnu.

The total value of the discovery is said to be at least £13 billion, but that figure is expected to rise when further vaults are opened and the entire haul is catalogued.

The discovery has sparked a fierce custody debate over ownership of the treasure and its future. Many believe the assets should be used by the government to alleviate poverty in a country where more than 250 million people live on less than a dollar a day. Others argue it is a part of India's cultural heritage and belongs to the temple, or at the very least should be displayed in a museum.

The reserve is believed to be the secret stash of the Travancore royal family, however since Indian independence in 1947, a trust run by descendants of the family has managed the temple.

The government has offered assurances that the cache will not be seized, but has taken over security of the complex amid fears that the treasure is not being adequately protected.

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