Sceptics will continue to have doubts about the existence of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But a large number of people, including senior officials of the Archaeological Survey of India, are convinced that there is gold at the bottom of an old fort in Uttar Pradesh. The incident has all the elements of a fairy tale. A local sadhu had a dream that there were a thousand tonnes of gold underneath the remains of a fort that a talukdar had built in the village of Daundia Khera in the district of Unnao, southeast of Lucknow. The sadhu, for all his commitment to matters spiritual, was quick to realize that this gold would solve India’s economic problems, and he wrote letters to important people in Delhi to tell them about his dream and its implications. Both the ASI and the Geological Survey of India were then galvanized into action and digging started in earnest on Friday to unearth the treasure. Not surprisingly, officials of the ASI have said that their efforts have nothing to do with gold or treasure but is a proper archaeological excavation.
The ASI’s version of the incidents raises more questions than it answers. For one thing, anyone interested in the history and heritage of India knows that the ASI is not particularly good at the job it is supposed to do. There are many pre-historic and later sites where proper excavations have still not been completed, in some cases not even begun. Most historical monuments are not properly looked after and preserved. There are many reasons for this neglect or indifference: paucity of funds and trained personnel could be two of them. Yet the ASI can despatch with great alacrity a posse of people to Daundia Khera to carry out an excavation. If there are valid archaeological reasons for carrying out this excavation, why did the process have to start only after the sadhu had reported his dream? Will the ASI put in the public domain the GSI report on which it says this excavation is based? What are the assumptions on which the ASI is working in Daundia Khera? What is it looking for? Is there anything in the immediate neighbourhood to suggest that Daundia Khera is rich in archaeological remains? In so far as written history goes, the fort in Daundia Khera is known as the home of a talukdar who was part of the rebellion in Awadh in 1857-58. The village was the site of a pitched battle between the rebel forces and the avenging British army under Colin Campbell.
Treasure hunts make lovely stories and children love tales of hidden treasure. But life seldom, if ever, imitates the wonderful stories of Enid Blyton. It is a commentary on the state of affairs in India that a sadhu can activate the normally lackadaisical ASI into splurging public money while neglecting its ordinary duty of preserving and looking after India’s historical monuments. All that glitters is not gold, the adage says; in this case there is not even a glitter.