India digs for $40 billion gold bonanza based on holy man's dreams

An example of India's vast appetite of gold, a worker at a jewelry showroom in Kolkata displays idols of Hindu elephant god Ganesh, left, and Hindu goddess Lakshmi. Rupak De Chowdhuri / Reuters file

The Indian government on Friday began digging for treasure near an ancient temple after a tip off from a holy man who said he dreamed 1,000 tons of gold was buried there.

Swami Shoban Sarkar said he was approached in a dream by a 19th century ruler called Rao Ram Bux Singh who told him about the $40 billion bonanza buried near an ancient temple.

But despite having no money, land, or even a bank account, Sarkar did not keep the mystical vision to himself. Instead the civic-minded citizen informed the Archaelogical Survey of India (ASI) in the hope the gold could solve India’s economic crisis.

Bowing to political pressure, the ASI has decided to see if Sarkar’s dream checks out. The excavation, in the village of Daundia Khera, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, began Friday.

"I cried the day I realized that India is going to collapse economically," the holy man told the Mail Today newspaper, according to Reuters. "It is a hidden treasure for the country."

Around a dozen labors sent by the ASI arrived at the site on Thursday and cordoned it off with a bamboo fence.

The dig has attracted a lot of interest, with people flocking to see if there is any truth in the holy man’s dreams. Enterprising locals have set up stalls and started selling tea at what has become something of an attraction.

Following the instructions from Sarkar’s dream, the workers have been told to dig in an area based on a shadow cast by the nearby temple, sources told NBC News.

They plan to uncover two 100-square meter areas beside the building.

But the ASI said the project is not based entirely on the holy man’s foresight. Director General BR Mani said a geological survey following the claims had also suggested there could be precious material at the site.

“We’ve responded to a report by the ministry of culture,” he said. “[The report] has observations by the Geological Survey of India that there could be some metal bounty under the earth. So the team is in the field.”

The state’s head archeologist warned that a gold find was not certain.

"We are still searching for the exact location and whether there is any treasure. It is all in the future," he told Reuters. "We often just find pottery and metal antiquities, like agricultural tools or kitchen tools."

Indians buys about 2.3 tons of gold every day, around the weight of an elephant, and this is mostly offered to the gods and hoarded.

This vast appetite amounted to $52 billion in gold sales last year alone, the most in the world. This was more than three times more than the U.S.'s $16 billion of gold imports that year, which was the world's third highest after China/Hong Kong.

India's vast gold imports, while lacking a serious gold mining infrastructure, is seen as a major factor in the country’s increasing deficit.

Reuters contributed to this report.