Seers furiously chanted mantra, television reporters from home and abroad jostled for space, villagers frantically clicked snapshots and posted them on social media — the scene at the village in central Uttar Pradesh was indeed a mix of the surreal and the post-modern.
The day began much before dawn at Daundiya Kheda, where Archaeological Survey of India's excavation work began on Friday. Walking past the different tiers of security, Swami Shobhan Sarkar — whose dream of a gold treasure in a mound near the Shiva temple has prompted this wild treasure hunt — reached the site around 4.00am.
The swami performed a small puja and initiated a havan near the excavation site. Then he left immediately for his ashram in Buxar. His disciples continued to chant Shobhan stuti and other hymns to generate positive vibes till 8.00 am.
Sources had earlier revealed that ASI's excavation strategy is as per Sarkar's dream. "Swamiji had said that the Shiva temple casts a shadow at different times of the day. The shape of the area earmarked for excavation appeared after joining the dots," they said. In the 1969 Western, Mackenna's Gold, the shadow of a pillar and the way it moves plays a crucial role in the discovery of the gold.
By the time, the sun came up, the area had turned into a media circus with regional, national and international channels and reporters swarming all around. School children and college students watched the proceedings amused often engaging in witticism.
"Jahan main khada hoo...." began an anchor ... "line wahin se shuru hoti hai ..." a voice in the crowd finished the sentence, drawing laughter from this improvised filmi dialogue. Another reporter tried to create a model excavation site gathering some bamboo sticks and broken bricks. This also caused much mirth among the crowd.
Many local women came to the Shiva temple and prayed for the success of the big dig. "The village will also benefit from the treasure trove," one Bina Devi said after offering milk to the temple Shivalinga. A journalist from Al Jazeera summed up the mood: "We had heard that India is a land of snake charmers. After this we are ready to believe it."
The excavation work began at 12pm after district magistrate Vijay Kiran Anand arrived. "We are getting the entire activity videographed. Senior officials from ASI and GSI are supervising the work," he said.
Pravin Kumar Misra, superintending ASI archaeologist, said that a 12-member team, including excavators and laborers, had initiated work for the "dream" mission. "We are using basic tools. It appears we will not need the big drilling machines," he said.
When asked about the possibility of finding gold, the ASI official said, "I cannot say anything about any metal. For us even a broken earthen pot of that time holds equal importance." When asked about Sarkar's dream, the ASI official said, "We have not come here for gold. We are archaeologists who have a scientific way of working."
In a statement on Friday, the ASI said that the GSI had conducted preliminary investigations including Ground Penetrating Radar Survey. The GSI report mentions, "This prominent non-magnetic anomalous zone occurring at 5-20 m depth indicative of possible non-conducting, metallic contents and/or some alloys etc may be tested by excavation for further interest at the specified site."
Sarkar's disciple, Swami Om ji Awasthi spoke on behalf of his guru. "My guru has staked his reputation for national interest. Please do not create hype. The work has been handed over to the ASI which has its own way and pace of doing things," he said.
The public's faith in Sarkar's prediction stood out in the hullabaloo. Shiv Mohan Tripathi, a retired English teacher from Rae Bareli Inter-college, said he had come to witness history. "Guruji never utters empty words. If he has said, there's gold, it surely is," he said. There is also a general belief that their fate would change for the better.
As the day wore on, the spot became a fairground of sorts. People clicked photos in the backdrop of the Shiva temple. Many headed towards the food stalls which had sprung up from nowhere and sold orange candy bars, cold drinks, chhole puri, pani batasha, samosa pakora, tea and mineral water.
Unnao is amazed by the drama. Most admitted they were glued to the television to gather updates. A government doctor said, "Until now, many of my friends had never heard of Unnao. Now, I am sure, some of them would remember it because of the tamasha."