In The News: Buried Treasure

The Temple
I've been following the recent discovery of an estimated $22 billion treasure in the vaults under the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple in the heart of Kerala's capital.  The treasure is believed to have been deposited by the royal family of Travancore centuries ago, and only recently discovered at the urging of a local activist, T.P. Sundararajan.  Sundararajan is a former intelligence agent who petitioned India's Apex Court to open the vaults and take stock of what was within.  The state of Kerala has refused to take ownership of the recent discovery and the Indian Supreme Court is now launching an inquiry in advance of a decision about what will be done with the newly discovered cache, including coins, jewelry, and statues.

The discovery raises a couple of interesting questions:  How and why was the treasure amassed?  And how could a collection that valuable be forgotten?  I've seen suppositions that historically only eight people in the Travancore royal family had knowledge about the vault and their contents, severely limiting access.  But as Sundararajan's inquiry suggests, it wasn't completely forgotten.  The current ruling family, which still controls access to the temple, has renounced any ownership of the find and is advocating its use for humanitarian purposes.  Sundararajan, who brought the treasure to light, recently died at the age of 70, reportedly of natural causes.

Image from Deccan Chronicle
What I've been puzzling about, however, is the idea of buried treasure.  In the heart of the capital city, under a famous temple to Vishnu, visited by how many millions of pilgrims over the centuries, is an invaluable treasure whose historical or artistic value hasn't yet been established.  What does it mean to have valuable secrets tucked away in inner sanctums of holy places?  How and when do the conditions arise for secrets like this to come to light?  The interlay of political power, worldly wealth, spiritual sanctity, and cultural and artistic treasure is fascinating.
My hope is that some of the prosperity this treasure represents goes back to people in surrounding regions.  If this treasure was amassed by the royal family, you'd have to imagine their tax base (and its current descendants) had a great deal to do with the treasure's existence.  But I also wonder about other centuries old treasures currently hidden below sight and consciousness... when might they be discovered as well?

Thanks to my mom for the heads up about the original NYT article.