Locals from at least three villages in the Rajgarh district of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh (MP) have spent the last week looking for an ancient treasure that, in all likelihood, may not exist.
Hundreds of villagers are digging up a riverbed based on a rumour that ancient coins and treasures from the Mughal era can be unearthed there. The rumour started last week, after some fishermen claimed to have found silver coins in the area on Jan. 2. This prompted villagers from surrounding areas to believe that they too could strike gold.
“We have been digging up the river for the last few days in hopes of finding valuable treasure,” an 18-year-old villager named Ranu Yadav told a journalist. MP’s rich history of people stumbling upon ancient treasure in forests or even their backyard is why locals like Yadav are quick to believe rumours about hidden valuables.
“Due to its central location, MP has historically been a key trade route for western Indian states like Maharashtra and Gujarat. It was ruled by the Malwa Sultanate, Mughals as well as Marathas, making it a prosperous region prone to foreign invasions,” Praveen Kumar Mishra, the regional director of the Archaeological Survey of India, explained to VICE World News. Mishra said the state’s vulnerability to invaders pushed many rulers to keep their valuables hidden under forts and forests.
However, authorities including Mishra insist that there is no proof of such treasure existing.
“There is a perception that if someone finds some coins, there is a bigger treasure trove that can be looted, but many of these rumours are not based in fact,” he said. District collector Neeraj Kumar Singh also announced that the coins unearthed by the fishermen were made of bronze and iron, and thus did not have any value.
But warnings by the local police haven’t hindered the locals, who continue to show up in droves. The state police have been unable to trace the origin of the rumour. The rumour is fuelled by folklore that believes the Mughal army had crossed this river and buried treasure under it while doing so.
“In many cases, the people who make up these false rumours are fake psychics, and because of MP’s history, locals are quick to believe it,” said Mishra.
In India, hunting for ancient treasure is a common undertaking, with many stumbling upon it to become millionaires overnight. On Jan 11 , eight treasure hunters were arrested in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh for destroying an ancient shrine.
Last week, treasure hunters in MP damaged a 250-year-old fort, searching for valuables.
Across MP—home to diamond mines as well as bandits—finding ancient treasure has become a fairly common affair. In December 2020, a labourer in the Panna district found a diamond worth INR 6 million (about $81,443 ). In fact, finding treasure is so common in the state, it has also led to dangerous consequences. Recently, a serial killer in the state murdered six people, after luring them to believe he was taking them to a “mythical” hidden treasure.
Between the 16th and 18th century, MP was ruled by the Mughal dynasty, even emerging as one of their main cultural capitals. In 2003, a woman in the Burhanpur district found gold coins worth millions dating back to the Mughal era In 2016, silver and gold coins from the Mughal period were unearthed at a construction site.