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Cops guard temple treasure worth billions

Armed commandoes cordoned off a medieval Hindu temple in south India on Monday after gold coins and precious stones worth billions of dollars were found in its vaults.

india Updated: Jul 04, 2011 14:12 IST

Armed commandoes cordoned off a medieval Hindu temple in south India on Monday after gold coins and precious stones worth billions of dollars were found in its vaults.

About 100 armed policemen formed a "three-tier" security ring around the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in the capital of Kerala state, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy said.

"The treasure will be kept in the temple itself and Kerala police are taking over its security from temple staff," added Chandy, who valued the discovery at 500 billion rupees ($11.2 billion) on Saturday.

Five vaults of the city-centre temple were opened last week, yielding enormous quantities of gold and silver jewellery, coins and precious stones -- and a sixth is set to be explored on Monday.

Retired Kerala high court judge C S Rajan, who is part of a seven-member team named by Supreme Court to monitor the treasure hunt, estimated on Sunday that the valuables could be worth up to a trillion rupees ($22 billion).

"Its antique and archeological value has not been yet been taken into account," he stressed to reporters.

He said that a seventh vault reinforced with iron walls would be opened only after a fresh direction from the apex court.

The discoveries have catapulted the Hindu shrine, renowned for its intricate sculptures, into the league of India's richest temples.

Dedicated to Hindu lord Vishnu, it was built hundreds of years ago by the king of Travancore and donations by devotees have been kept in the temple's seven vaults since.

Since India achieved independence from Britain in 1947, a trust managed by descendants of the Travancore royal family has controlled the temple.

But the Supreme Court recently ordered that the temple be managed by the state to ensure the security of its valuables.

Until now, the Thirupathy temple in southern Andhra Pradesh state was believed to be India's richest temple, with offerings from devotees worth 320 billion rupees.