Religious places are valuable for many reasons—as historical sites of significance, important artifacts or scriptures might be housed there, or a religious figure may have visited the site in antiquity. Other places might have had famous architects or painters work on them.
But all pale in comparison to what many experts believe might be the richest temple in the world.
Known as the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, and located in Kerala, India, the temple is literally covered in gold.
Entrance is only granted to Hindus, and there is also a strict dress code for visiting the temple.
According to a Forbes article, an estimated value of over 1 trillion dollars of gold and other treasures have been discovered in five of the six known vaults. The vaults are legally known as vaults A–F for court purposes, with vaults G and H subsequently being added following the discovery of two more chambers in 2014.
The exact date of construction is not known, but the temple has existed for centuries; it is mentioned in scriptures dating back to 500 B.C. and 300 A.D. It was only in more recent times, in the last couple of hundred years, that it was discovered that there were vaults under the temple housing treasures and wealth.
There have been several attempts to open the vaults, the most recent occurring in 2011 by order of the Indian Supreme Court to carry out an audit of the temple’s assets.
Vaults C–F are opened regularly in relation to ceremonies and rituals at the temple, but vaults A and B were thought not to have been opened for more than a century.
When they opened vault A in 2011, the auditors discovered $20 billion worth of gold coins, jewelry, and other treasures in a secret chamber under a large stone slab on the floor.
“When they removed the granite stone, it was almost perfectly dark, except for a small amount of light coming in through the doorway behind us,” an observer described to a journalist from the New Yorker in 2012.
“As I looked into the darkened vault, what I saw looked like stars glittering in a night sky when there is no moon. Diamonds and gems were sparkling, reflecting what little light there was. Much of the wealth had originally been stored in wooden boxes, but, with time, the boxes had cracked and turned to dust. And so the gems and gold were just sitting in piles on the dusty floor. It was amazing.”
All the main vaults have since been opened, inventoried, and had values estimated for the treasures found within them.
All except for vault B—that particular vault has mysterious stories and curses attached to it.
While the metal grille and wooden door were opened in 2011 to access the ante-chamber, entry to the main chamber inside vault B was blocked by a thick metal door. It is said that the door can only be opened by the chanting of secret Garuda Mantras done by a particular kind of priest, on a certain holy day.
There is no one in India today who can conduct that chant according to the requirements, and as such, to date the door has not been opened.
The debate still rages over whether to try to open the door to vault B.
During the 1930s an attempt to open the mysterious vault B occurred, and it was reported that deadly serpents emerged from the vault.
Some argue that the curse extends far beyond personal peril for whomever opens the vault door, with rumors of worldwide catastrophes if vault B’s inner door is opened incorrectly, or forced open in any way.