Fatal search for a king’s fortune

It is a misconception that treasures found can be claimed in full, say police

Katta Sivakumar, a bank employee working in Hyderabad, had heard stories about a treasure scattered deep inside the forests of Prakasam district.

Stories from obscure books, probably apocryphal, spoke of forests littered with gold and diamonds — a king’s fortune that now lay in wait to be claimed by an intrepid explorer. Local legend had it that the fortune belonged to Vijayanagara emperor Sri Krishnadevaraya. Precious stones were said to be exported through Motupalli, a port of call in the olden days.

The stories got the better of Sivakumar, who then embarked on a treasure hunt with two friends — B. Krishna Naik and Hanumanth Naik of Guntur district.

The trio set out on their treasure hunt under a scorching sun, only to meet with a disastrous end. Not planning properly for their adventure, the trio soon ran out of water and food and suffered a sunstroke. They also lost their way after their phones, on which they were relying for directions, ran out of battery in the middle of the forests. All efforts to contact police or their families went in vain.

Finally, Krishna Naik managed to find his way out of the forests with great difficulty after a 36-hour ordeal. Unfortunately, Sivakumar and Hanumanth succumbed to sunstroke and their bodies were recovered after a 2-day search by police.

Growing trend

Apart from indologists, a growing number of ‘treasure hunters’ are flocking to remote villages in the district, part of the ‘Greater Rayalaseema’ once ruled by Sri Krishnadevaraya, which are said to be replete with pre-historic artefacts.

Treasure hunters especially target historic temples dotting the vast landscape which are relatively unknown and are located in nondescript villages. Ornate pillars of these temples are demolished by these treasure hunters in the belief that these would yield precious stones, said Sankaraiah, Secretary of the Board which maintains the centuries-old Kalpeswaraswamy temple near Cumbum.

The lure of easy money and an urge to become rich overnight leads these people into the forests. Treasure hunters mostly fall victim to self-styled godmen who instigate gullible persons by giving them false assurances of a great fortune lying hidden in the deep forests. These godmen perform some rituals in order to ‘find’ the treasure. In one such incident, treasure hunters dug a 300-feet tunnel in search of antique idols in the Puliguha hillocks near Donakonda before they landed in police custody a couple of years ago.

Police on watch

While embarking on such treasure hunts in forests is not illegal, Superintendent of Police Siddharth Kaushal urged those keen on undertaking such explorations to notify the Station House Officer of the police station concerned after taking due permission from the Archeological Survey of India.

"We will be on our toes to help those on the lookout for antiques in case of any emergency," Mr. Kaushal told The Hindu.

"There is a misconception among people that treasures found can be kept for themselves. Those who make a chance recovery can enjoy only a part of the treasure and the rest should be handed over to the government for safe upkeep. Those who instigate gullible persons are liable for criminal action," the SP added.

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