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Experts to Catalog South Indian Temple Treasures
Indian police commandos patrol the premises of the 16th-century Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum, India, Tuesday, July 5, 2011. A fierce debate brewed Tuesday about what to do with billions of dollars worth of treasures in the Hindu temple in southern India, even as the trove of newly revealed riches was growing. Inside the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, investigators were counting the staggering hoard of gold coins and statues of gods and goddesses studded with diamonds and other precious stones. AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi.

By: Katy Daigle, Associated Press

NEW DELHI (AP).- A trove of gold and silver treasures found in a 16th century Hindu temple will be unearthed and cataloged by antiquities experts under tight security, with the media and public barred from the site in southern India, the Supreme Court said Thursday. The recent discovery of the treasure — including bagfuls of coins, crowns, precious gems and golden statues of gods and goddesses studded with diamonds, rubies and emeralds — made the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple the richest known religious institution in India. Its unofficial $22 billion valuation based on an incomplete inventory is expected to rise as the list of centuries-old items expands.

The court said the five-member panel of experts from organizations including the National Museum, Archaeological Survey of India and the Reserve Bank of India will work under tight security at the site in Trivandrum, the capital of the southern state of Kerala. Once all of the riches are counted, the panel will report to a court-appointed oversight committee.

The temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, was built by the maharajas who ruled the then-kingdom of Travancore. The former royal family, which has remained its trustees since India's 1947 independence, says the treasure belongs to the Hindu deity, also known as Padmanabhaswamy.

Earlier this month, the court ordered the temple's six vaults inspected after a lawyer asked that the state government take over the site, citing inadequate security. The valuables were given to the temple by devotees over years, but the public did not know the quantum of the treasures stored there.

Police officers have been patrolling the temple complex for weeks, and metal detectors and video cameras have been installed as the riches are inspected, photographed and recorded on video.

The find in Trivandrum has prompted debate on whether the wealth should go into a national trust to help the poor. Some wealthy temples around India have formed trusts to run schools, colleges and hospitals for the poor.

Others have suggested creating a temple museum for the public to view the many objects of historical and cultural value.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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