India, a land of diverse culture and potpourri of religious beliefs has witnessed the rise of worship places and spiritual centers which are not only the destinations to seek solace at the feet of God but retreat to the eyes of the believers. Since time immemorial Hindu dynasties have commissioned the temples which could be termed as the flagship of their inclination towards art and culture as well as elements to make a statement about their possessions of wealth. There are around 3.01 million that are places of worship in India. According to various calculations, the temple appeared in the list of 13 temples whose total income came to INR. 3,450 crores last year. There are near about 5 lakh acres of land owned by these temples. Only a few percentages of the money will be used for the maintenance of temple services. The rest of the money could be utilized for social sectors such as education, health, and sports.
- The Indian household stocks about 25,000 tonnes of gold and they account for 40% of GDP and a value of about US$1 trillion. Of these religious places in India hold roughly 4,000 tonnes of gold. Religious Places in India hold large quantities of gold jewelry offered by devotees to the deities.
- The gold reserves in Reserve Bank of India are to the tune of 618 tonnes which is among the top 10 If this is clubbed with reserves in households and religious places it will make it the largest reserves in the world.
- 766 tonnes in 2018 and 837 tonnes of gold is imported every year by India due to high demand and one of the most preferred modes of investment in India. A portion of it finds its way as offering to religious places which then become dead stocks.
- This gold could be used by these religious places to set up banks as per the rules and regulations of the reserve bank of India of their own with this gold as collateral and can contribute to the nation-building by infrastructure such as schools, college’s hospitals for the benefit of the public at large. Also, these investments continue to be their property and put to use for a larger good. Through secured governance, the valuation of gold can be put to effective use for growth.
India amongst to top global countries in Gold Reserves
The above the ground gold world over is to the tune of 190040 tonnes of gold of which 48% is in the form of jewelry, 21% in private investment and the balance in official sectors and others. Below the ground, gold is to the tune of 54000 tonnes. The US central bank holds the largest gold reserves to the tune of 8134 tonnes and the India reserve bank holds a reserve of about 618 tonnes which is 10th largest in gold reserves. India is the second-largest consumer of gold and it is said that India is one of the factors that drive global demand for the precious metal. During the festival and wedding season between October to February there is a huge demand in the requirement of gold. As India’s second-largest import is gold, the approximately 1000 tonnes of gold import each year leads to an imbalance in the country’s a trade and outgo of the precious foreign exchange. India’s demand for gold jewelry reached 372 tonnes in H1FY19. India’s gold jewelry exports stood at US$ 7.26 billion and imports stood at US$ 175.93 million in FY20P (April-October’19 Provisional). Gold demand in India rose 11 percent year-on-year to 760.40 tonnes during January-December 2018.
Large religious places in India with huge Gold Reserves:
The Padmanabhaswamy temple in Kerala is the richest temple in the country and it possesses a wealth of around US$20 billion in six vaults of Gold. The Golden Idol of Mahavishnu found in this temple worth INR. 500 Crore. The Gold necklace adding charm to the divinity of the deity is 18 feet long and weighs around 2.5kg. This temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is being managed by the former royal family of Travancore. The temple has total assets of around 90,000 crores worth include gold, gold idols, antique silver, emeralds, diamonds and brass. This collection also includes two golden coconut shells that are studded with precious stones.
Tirumala Tirupati Venkateswara Temple was believed to be one of the richest temples in the country and among the oldest pilgrimage sites. Every day around 60,000 devotees throng this temple. The presiding deity of the temple, Lord Venkateswara is clad with 1000kgs of Gold. The annual income out of selling laddus is around 11 million dollars. It is estimated that the temple gets a donation of around 650 crores every year. This temple has lodged 2,250 kg of gold with the State Bank of India.
Siddhivinayak temple located in Mumbai is a famous Hindu temple housing the holy statue of Lord Ganesha. This temple is thronged by 25 thousand to 2 lakh people every day. The annual income of the Siddhivinayak Temple ranges from INR. 48 crore to INR. 125 crore. The dome over the main shrine of Ganesha is coated with 3.7kg gold. The black stone idol of Lord Ganesha found in this temple is around 200 years old. This temple has already put 10 kg (22 lbs) of its gold into a bank deposit scheme and 140 kg is still in its vault.
Sai Baba temple is located in Shirdi Maharashtra is among the top pilgrimage sites of the world. The third richest temple in the country and is thronged by the people of all. This temple possesses gold and silver jewelry worth approximately INR. 32 crore and silver coins worth more than INR. 6 lakh. The annual donation received by the temple reaches up to an amount of around INR. 360 crore.
The most famous religious center of the Sikh Community, Harmandir Sahib or Golden Temple attracts globetrotters for its arresting golden color and exclusive architectural beauty. This charismatic golden shrine is adorned with gold and silver detailing and looks imposing at night for its strikingly illuminated golden dome. A blend of Indo-Islamic and Indo-European touch lends the temple a divine aura. The canopy of the temple is made of gold. The altar on which the holy book Guru Granth Sahib is kept is studded with precious diamonds and bright stones. It is estimated that on an average around 40,000 visitors throng here in Golden Temple every day.
Ajmer Dargah is located in Rajasthan and is considered as the final resting place of the Sufi Saint, Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chisti. Home to a number of tourist places, Ajmer can be a perfect representation of the diversity of the Indian culture and ethics and displays a perfect blend of religion, community, culture. Ajmer remains a popular tourist attraction with millions of devotees visiting this shrine every day. The Dargah has a gold plating on the top and is guarded by a railing made of silver and a marble screen. The annual income is approximately INR. 200 crores.
The Meenakshi temple of Madurai Tamil Nadu is one of the very few temples in India that witnessed footfalls of around 20 to 30 thousand devotees daily. The temple earns revenue of approximately 60 million annually. It enshrines about 33,000 sculptures on its premises. The main deity of the temple is Goddess Meenakshi, the wife of Sundareshwar (Lord Shiva). There are 14 gopurams in the temple having heights between 45 and 50 meters. The temple also has two golden carts, which enhance the magnificence of this famous Hindu Shrine and make it one of the richest temples of India.
Jagnath Puri is another rich temple of India that is also known for its high religious significance. With a bank deposit of more than 150 crores, this temple gets huge donations of around INR. 15,000 to 20,000 that go 6 times more during the festive season. Around 30,000 devotees come to this shrine every day and around 70,000 per day in the festive season.
Somnath temple around 35 kg of gold and enough prized possessions that make it called one of the richest temples in India. It features exclusive architectural planning and has immense religious importance.
Iyyappan temple in Kerala is thronged by 100 million devotees each year. The temple is situated on a hilltop at an elevation of 4,133 feet above main sea level and is encircled by mountains and dense forests. The weird fact about this temple is that only men can enter into this temple. The revenue earned from Sabarimala Temple during the pilgrimage season has been calculated around INR. 230 crore till now. During the pilgrimage season, the total income was INR. 218 crore.
Akshardham Temple is not just a popular religious place for the devotees but a visual treat too for the architecture lovers. It has become one of the most captivating elements of Delhi tourism. This amazing Hindu Shrine attracts a huge number of visitors every year. The idol of Swaminarayan placed in this temple is made of Gold while the Gurus are covered in leaf. The temple has the Guinness Book of the World record for being the largest comprehensive Hindu temple in the world.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the most revered religious destinations of India that has still maintained its glory in spite of being looted and demolished many times in the past. It is calculated that more than 3 million domestic and 2 lac foreign tourists visit this temple every year. The annual donation that this temple receives is around INR. 4-5 crore, which makes it one of the wealthiest temples of India. There are three domes in this temple, two of which are gold plated.
Gold Reserves and Economic Development
The government has been trying to reduce its import of gold by various measures such as gold monetization schemes and an increase in import duty as these imports have an advance impact on the balance of trade and the deficit.
Various impacts of the gold reserves in the temples could be considered
- Gold offered by devotees to the temple is considered auspicious and hence the temple for not wanting to hurt the religious sentiments of the devotee refrain from converting or monetizing them. Instead, they keep accumulating them and valuation and productive use of these are never done and this becomes a dead stock even though their value is really huge.
- Some of the temples have taken to gold for gold schemes wherein some portion of the gold are deposited in banks and these are melted down and held and the interest is paid back to the temple in gold. This is unable to bring in the cash component in the hands of the public which is very essential for the growth of the economy.
- Gold auction is also being considered as a means to bring the valuation of these metals in circulation in the economy. In this way, the product will remain with the devotee of the temple and also fetch a price at least four times higher as it is an offering from the temple. Devotees are prepared to pay large amounts to acquire them. This will put cash in the hands of the temple authorities which in turn can be dedicated to nation-building and sustainable socio-economic development.
- Some portion of the gold could be converted to coins of various denominations with the deity’s picture engraved and sold to devotees which in turn can bring cash into the system and help in economic development.
- The above two options can have a limited impact as this will be restricted to a few pieces or amount of gold. When we talk of 3000-4000 tonnes of gold which these temples have then a major revolutionary thought has to be made which does not hurt religious sentiments and these gold reserves are converted from dead stocks to value they deserve and help in nation-building.
- Hence the government could consider allowing these temples to have their own banks with the gold stocks as collateral and revenue earnings as their income. Large infrastructure projects for schools colleges hospitals can be considered for funding by them on a long term basis.
- This will generate employment and increase purchasing power and thereby create more demand. This cycle will help the economy grow and simultaneously also promote nation-building aspects such as high quality primary and secondary education for the needy, state of art health care facilities, low-cost housing, etc. This helps in sustainable socio-economic development.
- For a country like India, huge investments and funds are required for helping the lower strata of people to have the basic aspects of life such as healthy food, home, and a minimum income. The reliance of the government funds to bring about a change in the lives of these impoverished is huge and thereby tilting the balance in the budget to a huge deficit. The funds released from these temple banks can substitute some portion of this aid thereby creating a healthy balance of payment situation
Role of Funding Institutions in Ancient time
Banking history is interesting and reflects the evolution of trade and commerce. It also throws light on the living style, political and cultural aspects of civilized mankind. The strongest faith of people has always been religion and God. The seat of religion and place of worship were considered a safe place for money and valuables. Ancient homes didn’t have the benefit of a steel safe, therefore, most wealthy people held accounts at their temples. Numerous people, like priests or temple workers, were both devout and honest, always occupied the temples, adding a sense of security. There are records from Greece, Rome, Egypt, and Ancient Babylon that suggest temples loaned money out, in addition to keeping it safe. The fact that most temples were also the financial centers of their cities and this is the major reason that they were ransacked during wars. The practice of depositing personal valuables at these places which were also functioning as the treasuries in ancient Babylon against a receipt was perhaps the earliest form of “Banking”.
In India, there are several temples that have been reckoned to be places of immense faith and miracle and thus draw a large number of devotees from all corners of the world. Their sacred entities and their affluent architecture have earned them unparalleled fame. However, many temples had to undergo renovation with the help of the donations made by devotees (donations were made to show gratitude to God). Not as a bribe but to see their spiritual entities getting decked in best of everything, the devotees have donated sacks of gold, silver, and diamonds, which have later become the possessions of temple trusts. Here is a glimpse of the temples which earn in crores every year:
Like the one in Rajasthan, established 350 years ago, with huge holdings in its vault. Much of this is what is termed ‘idle’ gold just in lockers of vaults.
Secured Governance for religious places is a strategy that relates to the relationship between worship places and development to other social sectors like education, healthcare, and sports center along with various private institutions as partners and Government as governing body can foster coordination and create a social development and increase employability of local population and develops the cluster as a whole through regional strategies, technology, and interdependency. Selecting existing major religious destinations like Religious places (Temple, Church Mosque, etc. other temples) and Developing that as a Tourism Hub.
There are many temples in India, especially in the South where the money is seen as a flowing river. Not only money, but people are also so generous that they even give their gold jewelry.
Instead of holding a huge scale of gold and money in its vault, religious institutions would do well to spend on philanthropic efforts for people in need. These worship places should come out with a plan to help the needy. Worship places are mostly at the prime locations of the city. They have the potential to reach the most marginalized and excluded groups of society. They could offer responsiveness and speed in terms of providing community services and engaging people. Development plans should promote development that creates socially inclusive communities, including suitable mixes of housing. Plan policies should:
- Ensure that the impact of development on the social fabric of communities is considered and taken into account;
- Seek to reduce social inequalities;
- Address accessibility for all needy people of the community to health, housing, education, skill development, jobs, sports training, and community facilities;
- Take into account the needs of all the community, including particular requirements relating to old age senior citizens, orphans, disability or handicapped persons and economically weaker people.
We know that millions of young people mostly in rural areas are suffered from the socio-economic disparity and socio-cultural anomalies of life. The organic intellectuals in social movements and unions have realized that some part of the funding/donations/revenue of the worship places can be utilized for building schools, hospitals and sports centers in which human experience has been and continues to be welcome. These infrastructures help children to acquire knowledge as a gift of trust from the educators, who see the learning process as a mutual experience, who encourage the building of self-discipline and hard work through their own example and whose greatest happiness comes from seeing those with whom they have been exploring and changing the world around them, go on to share the process with others. There are around 5,000 major worship places in India that will be developed as a HUB and involve in the development of social sectors like education, healthcare, and sports. Schools, colleges, hospitals, and sports and skill training centers will be managed by these worship places. Secured Governance presents a strategy for social institutions whereby they can take advantage of the extra FSI provided to them in addition to the value and valuation of the infrastructure to yield higher returns. This valuation of infrastructure, which grows many folds, will support infrastructure development, ensuring balanced growth. By Implementing Secured Governance in social institutions, the extra FSI given to the institutes would be utilized by worthy entrepreneurs through a transparent system of selection. It’s worth keeping in mind that upgrading existing infrastructure will have a comparable, or better, return on investment than building new capacity. The Institution by taking pragmatic steps to develop the existing land and infrastructure with allied activities in sports, healthcare, vocational institutions, soft skill development centers, etc. will catapult the entire thing into a massive growth phenomenon. As per census data, more than 3 million worship places in India that need to act as mini HUB. These mini HUBs will provide huge employment opportunities and create in terms of social changes in the lives of local people, improvements in infrastructure, lifestyle changes etc.
With an aim to improve the facility infrastructure around the religious premises including providing better facilities that will facilitate the devotees to accomplish numerous rituals in easy and friendly manners, it will definitely enhance the revenue generation enormously from the devotees from throughout the world. The part of the revenue will be spent in developing a religious hub in the region along with establishing integrated education, healthcare and sports facilities with proper sectorial distribution, administrating and managing them and finally monitoring their effectiveness. The religious hub will help local people to get easy access to basic as well as quality social infrastructures in terms of education, healthcare and sports that will bring social stability, improve productivity, and income distribution, will support peoples’ quality of life directly or indirectly and will enhance the opportunity for people to make use of their potential. There are many famous temples they could involve in social activities like education, hospital, and sports.
Hence a solid case can be made for the growth of the economy with the reserves held by these religious places. A parallel can be drawn from the gold reserves held by the central bank and that of the temples. These come in handy to stabilize the economy from uncertainties and acts as a safety net in times of financial crisis. The gold offering to religious places is a regular affair and hence their valuations keep going up only and is an indicator for sturdiness and stability of religious places run banks. This would indicate that religious places will always have a buffer and cushion against the exposure of funds for developmental purposes. The impact of this could increase the fervor with which public visits these places and also can be a contributor to the increase in revenue of these places.
By Mrs. Jayanthi Sekhar
Director Micro Tech Global Foundation