Dr. P. Sekhar, Chairman of Global Smart Cities Panel & MTGF
Dr. C. K. Gariyali, I.A.S. (Retd.) Former Principal Secretary to Gov’t of Tamil Nadu
In this article, the authors explain the assets of temples or spiritual centers (in short worship places) and their contribution to society and national growth. These worship places are endowed with huge lands; devotees present every day several gifts such as gold and silver ornaments and a lot of cash from the ancient times. Every day a huge amount of money and gifts flows into worship places and heap up in its treasury chamber. Only small percentages of donations are using for the maintenance and ritualistic needs of worship places. The rest remains unutilized. Society will be benefited if the excess money could be used in an effective way for national growth. The circular flow of income is a sustainable economic model for the development of the country.
India is a “Land of Faith. There are around 3.1 million worship places all over India including Temples, Mosques, Gurudwaras, Churches, and Monasteries, etc where India donate a huge amount of money. According to various calculations, total income from13 important temples came to near about INR. 5,200 crores last year.
A few years earlier, the World Gold Council estimated gold holdings in India at 22,000 tonnes (≈INR. 61.60 lakh crore) Estimates of gold with temples in the country could be 3,000-4,000 tonnes. (≈INR. 8.4 lakh crore – ≈11.2 lakh crore). The net wealth of all major worship places could be around US$ 2 trillion (≈INR. 142.3 lakh crores) in India.
There are around 5 lakh acres of land owned by these temples.
Thus, there is ample wealth held by religious institutions which could be partly utilized for national development.
There is nothing new about it. Historically, religion has been involved in the welfare of the community. Our country is a spiritual country with abundant spiritual institutions. These spiritual and sacred sites have played such a role in India since ancient times and we are only talking about reintroducing the concept to benefit the present-day society.
These spiritual institutions can play a role not only in the spiritual welfare of the society but also can provide financial support, education, healthcare and sports, yoga and physical fitness training by diverting a part of the income earned towards these activities.
A wealth of many worship places is in the position to provide financial support for the industrial growth of the country. In Social sectors like education, healthcare, and sports activities substantial contribution can be made by worship places. A prime religious destination like Temple, Church Mosque, etc. other worship places can be developed as Tourism HUBs giving impetus to local industry and economy by creating substantial employment opportunities.
ORIGIN AND ROLE OF WORSHIP PLACES
The History of mankind shows that man cannot live without God. “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him” declared Voltaire. Belief in God, in a cosmic power or cosmic law, in a superhuman spirit or Being is basic to all culture.
The Temples did not exist during the Vedic period. The main object of worship then was the fire that stood for God. This holy fire was lit on a platform in the open air under the sky, and oblations were offered to the fire. It is not certain when exactly the Indo Aryans first started building temples for worship. The scheme of building temples was perhaps born along with the concept of idol worship.
Since then our Temples or places of worship have been the reflection of our well-developed civilization. They have been the focus of spiritual, social, economic and political activity. As the race .progressed, temples became pivotal and served as a sacred meeting place for the community to congregate and revitalize their spiritual energies. Large temples were built at picturesque places, especially on river banks, on top of hills, and on the seashore. The Puranas state the “The God always play near the rivers and mountains and springs”. Sacred sites in India therefore, are usually associated with water. The groves of trees and lakes of India are often considered to be sacred and having the healing and purifying powers.
Religion is a way of life that has been practiced from ancient times. The architecture of worship places in the Indian tradition is connected to astronomy and sacred geometry and is a representation of the macrocosm (universe) as well as the microcosm (the inner space). In Indian settlements, spiritual centers are always placed at the center of the town because they are considered vital for the religious and social welfare of the community. They are generally situated at the heart of places of pilgrimage. A worship place is not only a building of stone but each component of it reflects pulsating consciousness which is perceived, experienced and enjoyed by its devotees.
They have been the focus of everyday life in the Indian community, and the place where community members carry out religious, cultural, educational and social practices. These are the place where the community nurtures heritage, tradition, family and humanitarian values. These are the centers of festivals and epitomes of art and architecture and environment up-gradation. Here the community members are taught love and respect, teamwork, tolerance, and unity in diversity. They are the key meeting and learning center and can help build a sense of community and ell being in all who come there. They have also acted as the courts of justice.
THE TEMPLES AS TRADE PROMOTERS AND EMPLOYERS
The temples towns were the great centers of trade for the local people as well as the big merchants. In fact, a temple was the nucleus around which a town grew in the course of time. In its vicinity settled tradesmen who carried on their livelihood by supplying goods to the temple and to the multitude of its devotees. Dealers in flowers and other articles of worship put up their commodities on display around the temple. The temples became a great source of employment. Apart from the employment generated by the temples some time the temple construction itself became the reason for employment generation. They created employment during difficult times. It is believed that Raja Raja Build a big temple at a time of great famine to create the populations. Thousands of people got engaged in temple building activity. Right from stone quarry workers, to sculptors, to architects, masons, woodcarvers and so on. After the temple was built he engaged three thousand musicians and dancers to perform in Big Temple for pujas and for the festivals. The number of persons including priests was enormous. It is believed that in the temple of Chidambaram, the number of priests (Dikshitars) appointed by the king was three thousand, (Thillai Mooayyaram).
Many industries connected with melting, casting and working in gold, silver, brass, bronze, Panch Loha or Asht Datu (Five metals or Eight Metals) met the requirements of the temple. They encouraged the sculptors and artist, weavers and painters other artisans. All the pilgrims coming to pay homage generally returned home with small images of the deities cast in metal or stone to be set up in their homes for worship. The needs of thousands of pilgrims who throng at these centers of worship all year round and especially at the time of festivals had to be met giving rise to the tourism industry. This gave employment to guides, priests, inn-keepers and food-sellers. Inscriptions mention that the temples purchased coconuts, sandal, rice, turmeric, incense, leaves, flowers, lights, ghee, salt, pepper, areca nut and betel nuts in addition to oil, mustard, pulse, sugar, plantains, curds and firewood produced in the temple lands. They also bought rosewater, musk, camphor and even European saffron.
Temples as centers of human activities had to cater to the needs of the people. They required various articles and goods for sacred worship and food for feeding the needy. To meet these requirements, they produced and kept all kinds of articles and commodities in their own establishments.
In addition, they had to take care of donations and valuable gifts and they had their own treasuries and safe deposit vaults. They made investments and funded causes. The surely performed many banking roles in the process.
HISTORY OF BANKING IN INDIA
The origin of banking dates back to the Vedic period. There are repeated references in the Vedic literature to money lending which was quite common as a side business. Later, during the time of the Smritis, which followed the Vedic Period and the Epic age, banking become a full-time business and got diversified with bankers performing most of the functions of the present day. The Vaish community, who conducted banking business during this period. As far back in the second or third century A.D. Manu the great Hindu Jurist devoted a section of his work to deposits and advances and laid down rules relating to rates of interest to be charged. Still, later, that is during the Buddhist period, the banking business was decentralized and become a matter of volition. During this period banking became more specific and systematic and bills of exchange came in wide use. ―Shresthis or bankers influential in society and very often acted as royal treasurers.
From ancient times in India, an indigenous banking system has prevailed. The businessmen called Shroffs, Seths, Sahukars, Mahajans, Chettis, etc. had been carrying on the business of banking since ancient times. These indigenous bankers included very small money lenders to shroffs with huge businesses, who carried on the large and specialized business even greater than the business.
Mughal dynasty started with Babur ascending the throne of Agra in1526 A.D. During the Mughal period the indigenous bankers played a very important role in lending money and financing of foreign trade and commerce. They were also engaged in the profitable business of money changing. Banking business was, however particularly during the secular and settled reign of Emperor Akbar was gave the much needed political stability to the country. Every city, big or small had a ‘Sheth‘ also known as a ‘Shah‘ or ‘Shroff‘, who performed a number of banking functions. He was respected as an important citizen. In Principal cities, besides shroffs, there was a ‘Nagar Sheth‘ or‘Town Banker‘. They were instrumental in changing funds from place to place and doing collection business mainly through Hindi. The Hundis have accepted the mode of change of money for commercial transactions.
The seventeenth-century witnessed the coming into India of the English traders. The English traders established their own agency houses at the port towns of Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras.
THE TEMPLES – AS BANKS
As already mentioned the temples functioned as banks and treasure houses in their own right. A temple, if it had independent administrative machinery, had the privilege of having its own treasury known as sribhandaram. Various kinds of endowments like money and gold made over to the temples were deposited in the safe-vaults of the temple treasury and the gifted lands were placed under its control. Rarely, the penalty amount imposed on offenders was also deposited there. By accepting the deposits, the treasury authorities carried out the wishes of the donors. According to a record of Rajadhiraja II from Thiruvamathur, the Treasury undertook to supply ghee for a burning perpetual lamp from the grant of 32 cows gifted to the temple. But while money was endowed, the donor instructed the donees to utilize the interest and not the capital for the said service. The expenses of the above should be met from the interest amount. By this process, the endowment amount was kept as a permanent asset of the temple. This is like fixed deposits in the banks of modem times.
Various records refer to the endowment of money to the temple to be utilized for pujas and festivals and for other purposes. To fulfill the wishes of the donors, the treasury appears to have lent the endowed money to the needy people for interest. An inscription of A.D., 1015 of the time of Rajendra I records the practice of lending money by the temple. It states that a Panimagan of the king borrowed money from the Bhandara of this temple and purchased sheep. The sheep were entrusted with the shepherds for the supply of ghee for perpetual lamps.
Thus, in those days, this temple served as the people’s bank. Therefore, the treasury was guarded by garrisons, for it kept in reserve the wealth of the land.
In addition, it is well known the kings, especially Cholas, stored their wealth in an underground chamber below the sanctum sanctorum of a temple. The treasures of Raja Raja Chola were stored under the sanctum of the Tanjavur big temple. This was supposed to be the safest place to store the royal wealth. The way to the chamber was through an underground tunnel. I have personally seen this tunnel and the chamber under the sanctum in the big temple as well as in many temples. The key to the chamber was held only by the king and the chief priest. This wealth was unknown to anyone to be used only during wars, famines or calamities.
The banking role of worship places in today’s smart city concept needs to be reworked by finding culturally and spiritually acceptable means of deploying their wealth of social good and generation of social as well as economic prosperity in the region.
STRATEGIC ACTION PLAN FOR PLACES OF WORSHIP
- It is suggested that the places of worship which are already catalysts to development are to be involved in the development process more proactively.
- The Secured Governance can be a strategy that can connect the worship places to development of the social sector, promoting education, healthcare, Yoga and sports center in partnership with various private institutions. As per the secured governance strategy, it would be a one-time investment or self-sustained funding mechanism. Value and valuation will be playing a key role to sustain the regular revenue to the investment.
- The Governments on their part can create a conducive environment for cluster development through regional strategies, technology, and interdependency.
- The Governments can select the existing major religious destination to be made into smart cities or smart towns.
- They can promote worship places as a Tourism Hub by carrying out infrastructure development, providing connectivity, encouraging private investment in the tourism and hospitality sector through appropriate policies. Tourism is one of the most labor-intensive sectors. A medium-size restaurant generates creates direct employment for fifty persons and ancillary employment for another fifty, to say the least.
- Religious institutions especially Christian Missionary institutions are known for setting up educational institutions across India. Many temples such as Tirupathi Devsthanam have set up Universities, schools, and Colleges including medical colleges. Sai Trust apart from many colleges and schools across India has established the finest multi-specialty hospital and medical college in the country at Pattuparti. These initiatives need to be popularized and emulated by other places of worship for the benefit of society.
- It is important that the education provided by these institutions is neutral and value-based. The religious management schools should avoid emphasizing the religious ideas in their curriculum to make education inclusive to all sections of the society. For reducing social inequalities, they should focus especially on the marginalized segments of the society, as in the past take into account the need in particular of the aged, senior citizens, orphans, widows, suffering from disabilities and handicaps, on a more proactive basis to fill the existing gap in the services provided by the Government and the NGOs.
- The 3 million worship places in India as reported by the census, can be made to act as mini HUBs for comprehensive development. These mini HUBs will provide huge employment opportunities and have the potential to become the instruments of social change for local people.
- The funds of worship places are an important segment of the financial market of India, and these funds can be deployed properly giving adequate social as well as financial returns while participating in national growth.
- The state and central government authorities need to give preferential treatment and single-window approvals to the places of worship willing to invest in social Sector such a school’s colleges, universities, polytechnics, community colleges, ITIs, skill development institutions, clinics, hospitals, medical, dental, pharmacy, physiotherapy, and nursing colleges.
- In this regard, places of worship could provide a significant contribution to economic growth and the general public by providing the broad educational, cultural, recreational, social and religious needs of existing and future residents, workers, and visitors. They can also attract businesses that provide goods and services for weddings and funerals, and provide office space to non-profits, counselors, and charities.
The temple funds could be invested in a proper way that could offer a return in many folds while increasing the capital. The huge amount of donations available in the worship places and deposited in banks can be utilized for building and strengthening the economy which will result in nation growth. The accumulated surplus money could be loaned to industries for local developmental both of micro-and small scale industry, as well as a for setting up educational, health, skill development institution by giving back part of their income to needy and marginalized in society.
For achieving this both State and Central Government have to play a significant role by providing;
1. An appropriate policy framework to facilitate the process
2. Declaring these areas like smart city/ smart towns and providing all the inputs available to such cities and towns.
3. Encouraging religious institutions to contribute to the social sector by giving them preferential approvals and single-window clearances
4. Helping temple authorities in creating an ecosystem to support the social sector
5. Providing the guidelines and incentives to them to engage in social good without appearing to be forcing them. It should be ultimately their decision if they like to engage in non-spiritual socially beneficial activities or not.