Unnao gold rush: ASI's reputation hangs by a sadhu's dream
The nation's archaeological body stands to lose the most in the event that the dreaming sadhu's prediction about a treasure trove turns out to be false.
Daundia Khera, despite its rather dramatic and bloody history, sounds like a nice place to visit if you read about it on the Unnao district website.
It lies on the high bank of the Morahi river and seems to have a green, sedate look about it. It acquired the rather violent name of Sangrampur after ‘one Abhai Chand’, from the Bais Rajput clan drove out the Bhars of Daundia Khere after a fierce battle and chose to rename the site of his victory. The home of the great Bais clan of Rajputs, it remained so until Raja Rao Ram Bux Singh decided to participate in the freedom struggle of 1857 and was sent to the gallows.
However, it turns out that the esteemed Raja had secrets that he hadn’t gambled on a sadhu dreaming about. Shobhan Sarkar, a sexagenarian ascetic who had been confined to his hermitage in Shohbhan village so far, had a dream in which visited a treasure trove that Singh had buried under his fort.
"It was taken as a joke and nobody was serious. Shobhan Sarkar was worried when he heard the government was contemplating taking custody of the gold in various temples. He then asked me to inform the government that nearly 1,000 tonnes of gold is lying in Raja Rao Ram Bux Singh's fort," said Swami Om, a disciple of Sarkar, was quoted as saying in an Indian Express report.
While his own disciples didn’t take it seriously, Union Minister of State for Food Processing Charan Das Mahant did, and not only visited the site but also met the ascetic. After the minister came, the Geological Survey of India and the Archaeological Survey of India followed. Today after a puja by the ascetic’s followers, the most watched treasure hunt in recent times has begun.
The Archaeological Survey of India, comes under the Ministry of Culture which may explain its alacrity in jumping into a project that you don’t have to be an archaeologist to know in all likelihood is a dud.
But then the body tasked with preserving the country's culture and history, hasn't always stuck to a scientific temper while pursuing history. Despite being told by the Parliament not to, the ASI at one time embarked on a quest for the river Saraswati across several states. There was no scientific evidence that the river existed.
However, it is also important to realise that having a scientific temper hasn't been rewarding for officials working in the ASI. Two senior officials were suspended in 2007 after they said in an affidavit in the Supreme Court that there was no historical or scientific proof about the existence of Ram Sethu as a man-made bridge.
When it comes to maintenance of the existing historical monuments as well, the CAG in a recent report has pointed that the ASI doesn't have a database for the antiquities in its possession and most of its artifacts haven't been seen in museums where people are meant to see them.
It may be this ability to make antiquities vanish that resulted in some people demanding that the erstwhile Raja's gold be handed over to them. These people have claimed to be the Raja's descendants. A PIL in the Supreme Court has also sought that it shouldn't be the ASI but the Army that digs for the mythical gold so that it doesn't go missing.
The UP government has already staked its claim to the mythical treasure and already has the dreamer sadhu's permission to take it, given the good they can do with it. While BJP's Narendra Modi chose to mock it at his Chennai rally, the Congress's Renuka Chowdhury defended it saying that traces of a non-conducting metal had been discovered beneath the fort.
The ASI meanwhile will dig for over a month, foot by foot with only some surface relics and a sadhu's dream to guide them on.
Whether they will find a treasure trove or a mine of one of the many non-conducting metals will only be revealed in due course of time. Both the sadhu and ASI's reputations rest on what happens. If the sadhu fails he can blame it on not seeing his dream carefully enough, unfortunately the nation's archaeological institution will not be able to get off as easily.
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