What has gold to do with the temples, prayers and deities in India, the largest consumer and importer of the yellow in the world? Lots, in fact. Gold is the most precious religious ‘metal’ used in India’s temples and religious places of worship. India is arguably the largest bullion market in the world. India is a country that imports around 500-800 tonnes of gold on an average every year; India has the largest number of gold jewellery shops in the world. Indian households own around a whopping 15,000 tonnes of gold. India’s post offices, banks and commodity and stock broking houses are selling gold coins like hot cakes as an investment asset.
But when business in gold in India is booming despite the high prices of the yellow metal, there is something great happening with hold in India’s religious places of worships. Yes, a number of India’s Hindu and Sikh temples get large quantity of gold coins and jewellery as donations that commercial banks have tied up with temples to process their gold holdings.
Look at the golden state of affairs in some of India’s leading temples:
**The credit for a religious place to holding the largest quantity of gold in the world belongs to the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) that maintains twelve temples and shrines in the southern India state of Andhra Pradesh. The temples at Tirupati receive several hundred kilograms of gold as donations from devotees every month. It is said that the Tirupati temple has the largest gold holding that any religious place of worship in the world possesses.
**The Tirupati temple has a separate department to handle gold coins and articles received as donations. The department’s employees check if all that glitters is indeed gold. Coins are separated from currencies, gold from all else, before being deposited in banks. The assortment of golden items that the temple receives as donations include: gold coins, silver coins, gold ornaments, silver ornaments, golden handcuffs. Recently the temple even received a gold Leica camera, which is today being used by the official photographer of the temple.
**Two years back, a devotee of Hindu Lord Venkateswara for whom the Tirupati temple is dedicated donated gold puja items worth Rs 1.5 crore. Balbir Singh Uppal, an industrialist donated over seven pieces of puja items made of gold to the temple. The donation was believed to be made in fulfillment of a vow made earlier. The seven-piece ensemble comprised gold sankanidhi, gold padmanidhi, gold eka harathi, dhoopa harathi, gold nakshatra harathi, gold sankham, and gold nakshatra harati. The Tirupati temple is also giving gold to poor families in order to stop them converting to other religions. It gives out one gram of gold to each family which lives over a lakh (100,000 rupees) below the poverty line.
**On the Tirumala temple again. Recently, the Tirupati temple management announced the commencement of gold covering work of sanctum sanctorum of Sri Venkateswara temple. The temple administration has already received 60 kg of gold from devotees for the work taken up under the Ananda Nilayam Anantha Swarnamayam scheme. In the first phase of Ananda Nilayam Anantha Swarnamayam scheme, 200 kg of gold and 600 kg of copper will be used to cover the sanctum sanctorum.
**The Siddhivinayak Temple in the western Indian state of Maharashtra temple plans to sell gold ornaments donated by devotees at auction in order to pay for a medical centre. The proceeds of the auction by will be spent on a diagnostic centre, after plans for the project were approved by the state government.
** One of the biggest Hindu shrines in southern India, the Sri Puram Golden Temple a grand golden temple was built by a spiritual organization in Tamil Nadu at an approximate cost of US$160 million two years back. The temple, covering 55,000 sq ft area, has intricate carvings and sculptures in gold. Except the walking path, the entire structure has been covered with gold and copper. Some 400 goldsmiths and coppersmiths completed the architectural marvel in gold in six years. More than one and one-half ton of pure gold full of glitter and gleam has been used to build the temple which is covered fully with gold.
**The Harmandir Sahib (or Hari Mandir) in Amritsar in northern India’s Punjab state, is the holiest shrine in Sikhism. Known as the as famous Golden Temple—where once Indian army launched a military strike to flush terrorists from the temple—is a major pilgrimage destination for Sikhs from all over the world, as well as an increasingly popular tourist attraction. When the temple was re-built in rebuilt in the early 19th century, 100 kilograms of gold were applied to the inverted lotus-shaped dome and decorative marble was added! Thus the temple’s name of Golden Temple.
Analysts say the craze for gold in India has spilled over to temple because people believe that gold is the best and most precious commodity that they can donate to a deity as a form of worship. “Giving donations in cash and kind to God is a ritual that India has followed for centuries. So there is no surprise in the fact that gold is the most donated item in temples in India,” Ram Kiran, a bullion dealer in Mumbai told Commodity Online.
According to Kiran, temples in India are the biggest holders of gold as far as religious places of worship are concerned in the world. “Some of the temples in India own tons of gold that they are richer than Swiss banks,” he added.
Several commercial banks in India are wooing temples to handle their gold assets. The State Bank of India (SBI) recently launched a special gold investment scheme targeted only to those affluent and high net worth investors, temples and trusts for whom gold is just another asset class.
As per the scheme, the minimum amount of gold deposit is thus pegged at 500 grams (1/2 kg), which is probably beyond the reach of general public at large.
”Our scheme is specially targeted at large temples in India that receive huge donations in gold,” a senior SBI official said.
He said during its previous phase, the scheme had garnered 400 kgs of gold alone from Guruvayur Devaswom in Kerala. If the scheme does a turnaround this time, it may find its potential customers in famous temples across India that hold several tones of gold.
03 May 2009, Commodity Onlline