Hunt on for hidden treasure of Vijayanagara empire

Located 11 km from Tirupati, in Chittoor district, Chandragiri was the former capital of the mighty Vijayanagar Empire.

Hampi is a village in northern Karnataka, on the banks of the Tungabhadra River in India. Hampi is located within the ruins of Vijayanagara, the former capital of the Vijayanagara empire

The treasure trove at the 16th century Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple worth over Rs 1 lakh crore is believed to be the largest discovery of its kind in India catching the authorities in Kerala by surprise and forcing the state government to deploy cops for a round-the-clock surveillance to the previously unguarded shrine.

Following the discovery in Kerala temple, several groups of hunters and gangs are feverishly at work nearer home, in Anantapur district, to unearth gold, jewels, precious stones and antiques belonging to the Vijayanagara empire in the hope of raking in the moolah. The gangs are digging the forts, temples and other monuments of the Vijayanagara empire to unearth the riches.

While the hunters were looking for bags of gold coins, diamonds and other jewels and solid gold statues of gods and goddesses, the alarming rise in the gold diggers' numbers has unnerved the cops. So much so, the gang members are moving along with hi-tech scanners and other equipment to excavate the hidden wealth, sources said.

A gang of four members was arrested at Bukkapatnam by police recently when they were destroying an old statue of a goddess in the Siva temple built by the Vijayanagara rulers. A police official said following speculations that Penukonda, which was the summer capital of Vijayanagara kings, was a treasure trove of gold, diamonds and other jewellery several gangs have started operating in the area.

"We are confident of striking it rich. We know that the kings had left behind a massive stockpile of jewellery in the forts, temples and monuments. Our men are at work," Manjunath, a gang leader from Madakasira, said. In fact, the entire hillock region in Penukonda, Gooty, Ratnagiri and Madakasira mandals where the Vijayanagara rulers have forts and monuments are being dug up by the gangs.

Sources said the alleged treasure has revived questions as to who had managed to plunder the wealth, much of which was believed to have been deposited in the forts and temples by the royal family of the Vijayanagara kingdom in 16th century. Sources said some of the hidden treasures beneath the fort foundations have not been opened for several decades.

Legend has it that diamonds and gold jewellery were transported on elephants, horses and bullock carts to Penukonda by the Vijayanagara rulers from their capital Hampi in Karnataka to protect the wealth from Muslim rulers in the 16th century. "A staggering stockpile of valuables was hidden in the temples, forts and memorials in the second capital of Penukonda by the kings. No wonder, the hunters and gangs are back with vengeance," historian Visvendra Sarma said.

Pratap Reddy, advocate, said the authorities should immediately step in and protect the wealth from being pillaged by the gangs. In fact, one Kaleswar Baba of Penukonda is facing charges after he allegedly built a huge palace and multi-storied buildings after laying hands on the hidden treasures of Vijayanagara rulers 10 years ago. "There are also allegations that he had encroached the Vijayanagara fort and illegally raised structures there," a local not wanting to be named said. There were also charges that he was helped by district officials and politicians in this exercise.

Sources said the famous Nandi in Siva temple atop Madakasira hill was dug up by the treasure hunters in the hope of finding gold jewellery, while the famous 'flower symbol' in Lord Vishnu temple in Kambadur was destroyed as the hunters suspected that it was embedded with lots of diamonds. "We have identified a gang from Tamil Nadu involved in the digging operations. We will nab them soon," a police official said.

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Source: Times of India


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