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.”

Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
newsIn short, yes
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Cara Delevigne at the TopShop Unique show during London Fashion Week
The life-sized tribute to Amy Winehouse was designed by Scott Eaton and was erected at the Stables Market in Camden
peopleBut quite what the singer would have made of her new statue...
England's Andy Sullivan poses with his trophy and an astronaut after winning a trip to space
peopleThe actress has agreed to host the Met Gala Ball - but not until 2015
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

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and i...

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and...

Primary Teaching Supply

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories