Indian government officials covet temple gods’ gold
With an estimated 30,000 tonnes of gold, Indian temples are the next stop for a worried Indian government looking to convert available gold.
Posted: Thursday , 12 Sep 2013
MUMBAI (Mineweb) -
In yet another instance of how the Indian government is seeking to utilise “idle” gold and control gold imports, the government appears to be knocking on the doors of several temples, seeking information about their gold ornaments and artifacts.
The Reserve Bank of India (ROBI) has sent letters to several temples and their boards, seeking to collect data about gold contained within the temples. Estimates suggest that Indian temples have up to a combined total of 30,000 tonnes of gold.
While the deities and idols in most of these temples are dressed in gold, several temple roofs are actually decked out in gold, including the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, the Tirupati temple in Andhra Pradesh, and the Nataraja temple in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu.
The issue has, however, taken on political overtones, evoking the ire of Hindu fundamental groups across the country. While some opposition political parties have questioned the move and its timing, some rightist groups have sent a letter to the temple boards asking them to ignore the RBI letter.
"The wealth stored in the temples was contributed by devotees over thousands of years and we will not allow anyone to usurp it," claimed Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader V Mohanan, in a statement. The VHP is associated with the Sangh Parivar, an umbrella organisation, which also includes the main opposition political party, the BJP and the RSS.
VHP has claimed that the move infringes on “religious freedom”' and has urged the temple boards to reject the bank directive.
The RBI decided to step in, in an attempt to contain the damage. Although RBI's senior official Salim Gangadharan sought to clarify that the RBI had no plans to actually buy the temple gold, and that the exercise was a statistical one to estimate the gold, the apex bank later confirmed in a statement that ``there is no such proposal under its consideration at this juncture''.
India's finance ministry also got into the act, clarifying that the government has no designs on temple gold to help fight the government’s current financial crisis. Minister of State for Finance, J D Seelam, said there was an inquiry, but "Gods’ gold is the very last resort."
A board member of the Guruvayur temple--one of the richest shrines in the country with vast reserves of gold and other valuables offered by devotees over the years--noted, “Two major temple boards that manage most temples in South Kerala, like the famous Sabarimala temple of Lord Ayyappa, visited by millions from across the world, did get the note and were foxed by the contents. We were informed about it too, though no decision has been taken as yet by the board''.
However, wealthy temples--such as the Shree Krishna temple of Guruvayur in Kerala and the Vaishnodevi temple near Jammu and Kashmir--said they are not ready to part with their golden treasures to ease the supply crunch in the country.
The Padmanabhaswamy temple, a Hindu shrine dedicated to Lord Vishnu, is managed by a trust headed by the royal family of Travancore, and considered among the richest temples in India, with huge reserves of gold, diamonds and precious stones. A July 2011 Supreme Court committee's report on six vaults at the temple, estimated its treasure trove to be around $15 billion (Rs 1,000 bn).
The Tirupati temple receives around 90 kilograms of gold and 100 to 120 kg of silver as offerings every month. The temple is said to have a treasure trove of gold bars, coins and thick gold jewellery pieces. Tirupati recently submitted 493.702 kg of gold ornaments to the Indian Overseas Bank (IOB), for converting into gold bars equivalent to 338 kg of pure gold. Overall, the temple has deposited 1,353 kg of gold with IOB and has also deposited nearly 2,275 kg of gold with the State Bank of India.
The Sree Krishna temple in Kerala reportedly has over 600 kg of gold, of which more than 500 kg are deposited as bars with the State Bank in Mumbai. The rest of the gold is kept inside the temple to use in daily rituals.
iPad Version: Picture - India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and prime ministerial candidate Lal Krishna Advani gestures during his visit at the holy Sikh shrine of Golden temple in Amritsar: REUTERS/Munish Sharma