A former royal family can continue to run a temple in India that is one of the world’s richest places of worship, the country’s Supreme Court has ruled.

After the family patriarch died, the Kerala state government tried to take over the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple.

Kerala’s High Court ruled in the government’s favour, a decision now reversed by the Supreme Court.

When one of the temple’s vaults was opened in 2011, it was found to contain riches worth more than $20bn (£16bn).

This included sacks full of diamonds, gold coins and jewellery.

The Hindu temple, which is in Kerala’s capital city Thiruvananthapuram, contains another vault that is yet to be opened. The Travancore family argues that opening it will unleash a mythical curse on the state.

But there have been allegations that some of the temple’s treasures have disappeared, including a centuries-old flute made out of ivory.

The High Court ruling in 2011 came after the death of the last ruling Maharaja of Travancore, Sri Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, in 1991.

Reversing this decision on Monday, Supreme Court justices U U Lalit and Indu Malhotra said: “We allow the appeal of the royal family of Travancore. Death does not effect Shebaitship [management and maintenance of religious deities] of the Travancore Family.”

The court added that a new committee set up by the Travancore family to run the temple would have the right to decide what to do with the temple’s wealth, including the contents of the unopened vault.

Gauri Lakshmi Bai, a member of the family, told reporters: “A large number of devotees had prayed for us. The judgement is their victory.”

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