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Archaeologists condemn India’s Treasure Hunt based on Holy Man’s Vision

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Earlier this week we reported on an excavation taking place in Uttar Pradesh, India, after Hindu swami Shobhan Sarkar relayed a dream to an Indian government minister in which the spirit of a former king appeared to him and told him of a nearly $50 billion cache buried beneath a monument. The treasure hunt has led to the site being swamped by thousands of civilians and swarms of media, as well as plenty of so-called descendants of the former king hoping to get a slice of the riches. However, the excavation has been largely condemned by archaeologists and conservationists who believe the project is a waste of time, money and resources.

“Shame on the government for ordering this ridiculous exercise,” said R.C. Agarwal, a former director general of the Archaeological Survey. “We have become a laughing stock.”

India’s hunt for gold in the village of Daundia Khera has entered its sixth day but so far nothing has been found. Nevertheless, a team of government excavators have vowed to continue the search, and the Hindu holy man is beginning to feel a little hot under the collar.  "My entire spirituality is at stake. Suppose there is no gold at all," he said. "What will happen to me? The government may dub me a fake sadhu. My followers will desert me."

According to Guru Shobhan Sarkar, the spirit of the 19 th century king told him that up to 1,000 tonnes of gold was buried beneath the ruins of an old palace in the state. The dead king, he said, was worried about the depreciating Indian rupee, and had asked for his hidden trove to be unearthed to boost the falling currency.

The government, in a statement last week, made no mention of the guru and claimed the hunt was based on scientific evidence. The state-run Geological Survey of India said it had mapped the area earlier this month and found evidence of a “prominent nonmagnetic anomalous zone” below the surface. But according to other reports, they only examined the site after one of the Holy man’s devotees, a cabinet minister, demanded it.

A few other archaeologists say the hunt may not be a waste of time after all. Divay Gupta, who heads the archaeology division at New Delhi-based Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage, says the effort is worthwhile even if it unearths artefacts dating to the country’s medieval period. “For an archaeologist, that itself is a valuable find,” he says.

Whether anything of value will be found at the site is yet to be seen.

By April Holloway

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