The mystery of India’s other golden temple: Archaeologists begin hunt for fabled hoard of treasure

For generations villagers swore that an enormous hoard of gold lay buried beneath their feet. Now the Indian government is excavating after the local holy man gave his blessing

As a boy, Ram Sagar listened to legends about untold riches that were said to lie beneath the very ground he was now clearing with a shovel. The stories said there was an enormous hoard of gold, the lost treasures of a king who had risen up against British rulers and been hanged for his dissent.

They were just stories, of course, shimmering, fantastical tales passed down from one generation to the next. No one actually knew.

But today, Indian government archaeologists are to begin excavating the site and start searching after a religious leader told them he was certain 1,000 tonnes of gold was buried here. A minister subsequently ordered a geological survey – which suggested there may be metal under the ground.

News of the unlikely endeavour has sparked feverish interest among villagers, who every year visit the memorial of the king on the anniversary of his execution to offer their respect. They are already demanding that 20 per cent of whatever may be found is spent to develop the area – schools, a college, a clinic. Everyone is sure the guru’s prediction will prove true.

“I heard stories as a child,” said Mr Sagar, hired to clear the ground ahead of excavations. “We are hopeful.”

The godman-inspired gold hunt is taking place in the village of Daundia Khera in Uttar Pradesh. Here, amid the birdsong on the banks of the flat Ganges river, are the remains of a fort built by Rao Ram Baksh Singh, a local ruler who took part in the 1857 revolution against the British.

When the revolution failed, Singh was captured and hanged from a large tree. Next to the fort’s ruins is a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Shiva.

The village headman, Ajay Pal Singh, said there had always been speculation gold was buried here. Other villagers said people occasionally found coins near the fort but that they usually brought bad luck to the finder. Most people stayed away.

But last month, word got out that Swami Shobhan Sarkar, a local Hindu leader who has established several ashrams, or retreats, had experienced a dream in which the dead king came to him and asked him to recover the gold.

The godman was apparently concerned by reports about India’s flagging economy and plunging rupee. He said there could be as much as 1,000 tonnes of gold here and more nearby, which government could use to boost its gold reserves and help tackle its account deficit.

“People treat the swami like a god,” said Mr Ajay Singh, the headman. “I am 100 per cent certain.”

The imminent excavation, to be carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), a government agency established in 1861, has turned the usually peaceful village of Daundia Khera into something of a beehive. People are flocking for a sight of the fort and local television channels have gathered in anticipation of the start of the digging.

Swami Om spokesman for the local guru Swami Shobhan Sarkar Swami Om spokesman for the local guru Swami Shobhan Sarkar (Andrew Buncombe)
Quite what the long dead king, Rao Ram Baksh Singh, would make of the fuss is unclear. There is no record of what happened to his body after his execution on December 28 1857, but in 1992 the authorities established a memorial next to the spot where he had been hanged.

Reports suggest that, in recent days, people claiming to be descendants of the king have arrived at the village, hoping for a share. Yet locals say the king had just two daughters who committed suicide after his death and left no heirs. 

Aside from the excitement, the undertaking has led some to pause and ponder the very nature of modern India. Why is the supposedly secular Congress party-led government spending public money to launch a treasure hunt on the say-so of a seer?

It appears the government sprang to action with surprising speed at the behest of Charan Das Mahant, a junior minister in the Ministry of Food Processing Industries, who had received news of the godman’s vision through a mutual acquaintance, another swami.

Mr Mahant was apparently so taken by Mr Sarkar’s prediction that he twice visited him. He then asked that a report be conducted at the site by the Geological Survey of India (GSI), another government agency. In turn the ASI was asked to excavate.

Dr BR Mani, a senior ASI official, said work was due to start today. He said the team was interested to excavate the historic site and had been directed to do so after the GSI conducted a preliminary inquiry which found there was “something” there. “We are not treasure hunters,” he insisted.

A spokesman for Mr Mahant, the minister, said he was too busy to respond to inquiries. Yet in an interview with The Indian Express, he said that after meeting Mr Sarkar he had informed the Prime Minister’s office, the finance and home ministers, the mines’ minister and various agencies. He also sent word to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, the mother and son team who head India’s Congress party.

“When I met [Mr Sarkar], he told me about the reserves,” said the minister. “He said the quantity was so huge that if the government can excavate it, it could be handy since there was a crisis with the rupee.”

Perhaps as a result of the flurry of publicity, Mr Sarkar, the religious leader, has moved out of Daundia Khera and is staying at the second of his ashrams, located 70 miles away at Sheoli, near Kanpur.

When The Independent visited, it was dark and Mr Sarkar, clad in orange robes, was sitting in the darkness, receiving devotees and shining a flash-light into their eyes. He insisted that his photograph not be taken. He offered a blessing and a banana but said he would not talk about either the excavation or his predictions. “Please go away,” he demanded.

Yet the guru has appointed a much more media-friendly spokesman, a bare-chested devotee with a grey beard called Swami Om. Mr Om denied reports Mr Sarkar has received a vision of the gold in his dreams, saying he had always known it was there.

He said the guru decided to try and help the Indian government after reading recent reports of its economic problems. “He said ‘ask the prime minister how much gold he requires’,” he said.

He said Mr Sarkar believed there were similar caches buried in other villages. He said the gold would be enough to allow India to match the reserves of the US Federal Reserve, which reportedly holds 8,133 tonnes. “It is because of the mercy of a saint,” he said, referring to Mr Sarkar.

Asked what would happen if the excavation found nothing, Mr Om showed a copy of the recent, unpublished GSI report.

A sentence in the report’s conclusion said a site inspection had detected that a “prominent non-magnetic... zone occurs at 5-20 metres depth [and there is] indication of possible gold, silver and/or some alloys”. It recommended further investigation by means of an excavation.

Some have speculated any gold at the site may be associated with the neighbouring Hindu temple rather than the fort. Many temples across India have huge treasures given by devotees. One temple in Kerala is believed to possess £14bn of gold and the government recently contacted various temples asking them for details of their reserves.

Mr Om said Mr Sarkar was confident of success but had offered to pay for the costs of the excavation if nothing was actually discovered. He said: “If there is nothing there, send us to jail.”

Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London