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Court orders curator for $22 billion Indian temple treasure

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    Devotees walk up the stairs leading to the 16th century Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum, India, Wednesday, July 6, 2011. A fierce debate brewed Tuesday about what to do with billions of dollars worth of treasures in the popular temple in southern India, even as the trove of newly revealed riches was growing. Inside the 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)
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NEW DELHI>> India’s top court Wednesday ordered that a curator be appointed to protect and preserve the vast treasures newly revealed in a Hindu temple in southern India.

The gold coins, jewels and gem-encrusted statues were found recently in an inventory of underground vaults of the 16th-century Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Kerala. Initial estimates put the value at $22 billion but the inventory is not yet finished.

The Supreme Court also Wednesday directed that the entire trove be photographed and filmed.

The court previously ordered the inspection of the vaults after a lawyer petitioned a local court asking the state government to take over the temple. The lawyer cited security concerns.

The Court appointed two retired judges to serve as observers to supervise the opening up of the temple’s treasures, directing that the inventory be prepared in their presence.

The temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, was built by the maharajas who ruled the then-kingdom of Travancore and was controlled by the erstwhile royal family after India’s independence in 1947.

So far five of the six vaults of the temple have been opened.

The Supreme Court is expected give its orders on forcing open the remaining vault on Friday as its steel-framed doors will have to be cut open.

The unforeseen riches instantly have turned the temple into one of India’s wealthiest religious institutions.

The royal family had petitioned the court against the inspection but hasn’t commented on the revelations since the vaults were opened.

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