Unearthing treasures has long been an obsession of archaeologists -- and one treasure hunt has led Indian officials to unearth treasures worth $23 billion from underground chambers in the centuries-old Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Kerala.

A court-ordered search of the vaults beneath Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, located in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of the South Indian state of Kerala, has unearthed gold coins, silver, diamonds, jewels and statues worth $23 billion. It has been known that officials unearthed only five of the six secret subterranean vaults of the 16th century Hindu temple.

Recently, it has been reported that while unearthing one of the six vaults at the temple, officials found a golden idol of Mahavishnu, with a height of about one foot, and a golden anki that weighs close to 30 kilograms. The golden anki used to adorn the presiding deity, who is in the eternal sleep posture. In addition, investigators discovered numerous coins issued in the early 16th century.

The fate of the last vault, which is the only one to be opened, will be decided on Friday, government officials said. Sources say when the contents of the last vault are accounted the total asset of the temple may cross the stunning sum of Rs. 1 lakh crore (about $23 billion).

The wealth from these vaults, which was opened after almost 136 years, has made Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple the richest temple in India. Earlier, Tirumala Venkateswara Temple in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh; Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab; and the Shirdi Sai Baba shrine in Maharashtra were believed to be the richest temples in the country.

The vaults were opened in the presence of the panel, and observers, which include high court judges, temple officials, archaeology authorities, lawyer Sundararajan who had petitioned the Indian Supreme Court to open the vaults, and a representative of the current Maharajah of Travancore, Uthradan Thirunaal Marthanda Varma, who is also the managing trustee of the temple. 

Police set up a dedicated control room close to the temple, as state Chief Minister Oommen Chandy pledged full state security for the hoard and promised it would remain the property of the temple after an inventory was made.

The vaults were searched after Sundararajan petitioned the country's Supreme Court, accusing administrators of mismanaging and poorly guarding the temple.

A seven-member panel was appointed by India's Supreme Court to enter and assess the value of the objects stored in its cellars, including two chambers last thought to have been opened about 130 years ago, according to BBC News.

The Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple was built in the 16th Century by the kings who ruled over the then kingdom of Travancore. Local legends say the Travancore kings sealed immense riches within the thick stone walls and vaults of the temple.

In India normally devotees donate gold and other precious objects as gifts to several temples as part of their pilgrimage to get the blessings of the God. This has led to billions of dollars worth of wealth existing in several temples of India.

The spiritual guru Sai Baba, who died in April, left behind an estimated $9 billion estate, while the Tirumala temple is reported to have 3,000 kilograms (6,614 pounds) of gold, a third of which it deposited with the State Bank of India last year.

India's Supreme Court will decide what happens to the treasure and the rest of the temple, once it has established the total value of the holdings. Kerala, also known as God's Own Country, has now become the real abode of God's own treasury too. ($1 = 44.445 Indian rupees).