Former royals renounce Indian temple treasure

NEW DELHI - The head of a former Indian royal family renounced on Friday any personal claim to billions of dollars' worth of ancient treasure discovered in a Hindu temple in the kingdom his ancestors once ruled.

"The royal family is not claiming anything. No part belongs to the family," said K.K. Venugopal, a lawyer representing the descendants of the erstwhile rulers of the Travancore princely state in the southern state of Kerala.

Venugopal made the statement in the Supreme Court in New Delhi, which is driving efforts to establish ownership of the sacks of gold, precious stones and jewellery found last week at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram.

Venugopal said the head of the Travancore family, Marthanda Varma, believed the stunning treasure "should be used judiciously for religious and social purposes" such as building hospitals and schools.

"The artifacts may be kept in a museum independent of the temple," he added.

The temple, dedicated to Hindu god Vishnu, was built hundreds of years ago by the king of Travancore and donations by devotees have been kept in the temple's vaults ever since.

All but one of the vaults have been opened, with the value of the haul estimated at between 500 billion (S$13.6 billion) and one trillion rupees ($11-22 billion).

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

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

On Friday, the Supreme Court directed that the opening of the final vault be deferred and asked for suggestions from the state government and Varma's family on how the treasure should be secured and preserved.


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