The hunt for about a 1,000 tonnes of gold a seer told officials lies buried at a nineteenth century fort in an Uttar Pradesh village started on Friday.
A 12-member team comprising archaeologists, geologists and workers began digging a mound in the ruins of the fort built by Raja Rao Ram Baksh Singh, in Duandia Kheda village in Unnao district, 100km from Lucknow, after a meeting with local officials.
The hunt has created curiosity after reports that highly-revered local seer Shobhan Sarkar told Union minister Charan Das Mahant that the country’s financial troubles will ease to a great extent if the gold was excavated and spent on public welfare.
But Unnao district magistrate Vijay Kiran Anand sought to downplay the seer’s prophesy angle, saying the excavation was planned after the Geological Survey of India had noted the presence of some valuable metals beneath the earth at the fort.
Superintending archeologist, Archeological Survey of India’s Lucknow circle, PK Mishra echoed Anand’s sentiment.
“For us even an earthen pot is of immense importance. We are least bothered about gold and we do not work on dreams. We are just following the orders from Delhi,” Mishra said.
He said the presence of a non-rocky substance at the depth of 20-metres noticed during the geological survey was the only “proof” that prompted the excavation.
Media at Raja Rao Ram Bux fort where ASI began excavation work in Unnao to trace hidden gold. (PTI Photo)
But Swami Om, Sarkar’s disciple, said his guru has a handwritten map of the GSI, which clearly mentions the presence of a treasure.
And the man behind it all, Sarkar, feels he may have put himself in trouble by prophesying something many will find hard to digest.
“I have written more letters about the presence of gold in Kanpur and Fatehpur districts. But the one in the neighborhood (Unnao) is enough to save our economy,” said the seer.
“I have even asked them to send me behind bars if I am proven wrong,” he said. His followers are equally firm.
“We know that baba’s dream will come true. He has performed many such miracles before,” said Virendra Tiwari, one of the seer’s followers from Barabanki district.
The excavation, expected to take a month, will be filmed, the district magistrate said. Hundreds of local villagers and the seer’s followers in neighbouring districts thronged the site when the digging started.
Dream and Digging
Sarkar had dreamt that Raja Rao Ram Baksh Singh, who gave his life for the country fighting the British in 1857, told him to take care of the gold buried in the remains of his fort. The seer shared his dream with one and all, including Mahant who did not dismiss it as joke. Instead, Mahant visited the village and this is how the ASI and GSI got active.
People stand near the fort of King Rao Ram Baksh Singh in Unnao. (AP Photo)
Consequently, the central government directed the district magistrate of Unnao on September 3 to make arrangements for the excavation. On the directives of the district administration and the government, a team of the ASI officials surveyed the area indicated by the saint and found the signs of the presence of the precious metal 15-20 metres deep.
The ASI experts have made it clear that they will go extremely slow when it comes to digging. They have advised the workforce not to dig more than three feet in eight hours.
"Workers have been instructed to go slow and remain a bit gentle; they should not generate extra-force when hitting the surface. ASI doesn't want to damage any historic artifact it might hit upon in the process,” Mishra said.
The ASI has not opted for the technologically driven non-destructive technique it normally applies in such works because of the terrain where dense forest cover pose a problem.
The ASI experts reached Unnao on Thursday and met the district magistrate before the taking up the excavation. The administration, on its part, has sanitized the points marked for digging and banned the entry of general public.
On Friday, a havan was conducted by Shobhan Sarkar, who appeared to his disciples for the first time. When the ASI officials reached the site on Thursday, they fell at the seer’s feet and asked for his blessing. “Baba, hamari madad karo (Baba, please help us).” The seer then promised to conduct a havan just before the digging started.
In view of massive public build-up, the Unnao police have barricaded the excavation points and deployed armed police personnel. "All measures are in place to check the public entry," said Sonia Singh, SP Unnao. Other than 16 Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) personnel, one sub-inspector and four armed constables will remain at the site round-the-clock.
"The situation is being monitored on a day-to-day basis. No one will be allowed to get even close to the excavation site," she said.
Who was Raja Rao Ram Baksh Singh?
People gather at Raja Rao Ram Bux fort where ASI began excavation work in Unnao to trace hidden gold. (PTI Photo)
According to local historians, Raja Rao Ram Baksh Singh was defeated by the British in the first war of Indian independence in 1857. He was hanged to death. Unaware of the treasure, the British demolished his palace and the whole treasure remained buried in the campus. Since then, no one knows what happened to the treasure.
Who is Shobhan Sarkar?
Shobhan Sarkar was born in Shakulnapurva village, Maitha block in UP's Kanpur (Dehat) district. He studied at the BPMG Inter-College in Mandhana town in Kanpur Nagar district. According to some people in Mandhana, in his free time, Sarkar used to study Gita and Ramcharitmanas sitting under trees.
Ten years after completing high school, he left home and became the follower of Swami Satsanganand. People associated with the ashram of Swami Satsanganand say that Swamiji was used to known as "Bade Swami"
Sarkar learnt meditation under the guidance of Swamiji for about eight years. Bade Swamiji had come to Doodhi Kagar Forest from Sahmilpur village in block Amauli Bindaki Fatehpur around 70 years ago. He worshipped under a tree and later build a "kutia" (hut) to live there. Swami Parmanand of Mawai Bindaki was very close to Bade SwamiJi. Shobhan Sarkar used to treat him as guru.
With the consent of Guruji and the Bade Swami, Shobhan Sarkar built his ashram first at Baghpur in Kanpur Dehat and later in Shobhan. Bade Swamiji passed away in 1977.
In order to connect the Shobhan temple with the villages, roads were constructed and several villages, including Pandunagar, Nigoha, Baghpur, Singhpur and Pratarpur were connected with Shobhan temple. The temple is surrounded by pond water. The water from Pandu river also flows into the pond. There are submersible pumps installed in the temple campus. The overflowing water reaches to the fields. Thousands of devotees enjoy community feast every day at the temple.
Sarkar has constructed temples in Chaubepur, Sunauraha, Singhpur, Maitha, Sarsaul and in Doodhi Ghat. Following disputes over tax on temples, he got the ashram registered. He also made ashrams at Buxur in Unnao and at Doodhi Kagar in Fatehpur.
Local priests performing 'puja' at Raja Rao Rambux fort before ASI started excavation in search of hidden gold in Unnao. (PTI Photo)