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Faith vs Wealth: Hundreds of kilo of gold in Hindu temples

Himachal's rich temples too poor to afford so, the Himachal Pradesh government is finding it real burdening to manage the hundreds of kilos (above 4 quintals as per official confession) of gold besides tonnes of other precious metals lying in its treasuries. Of course the treasure belongs to the gods and therefore it is certainly even more burdening to be custodian for the All Powerful. And what bright idea it is to bank on bullion reserves temple shrines across the state have – perhaps a godly stimulus for a fledgling mountain economy that is yet to fully integrate itself with the larger speculative world capital market.

 

But money being money, the state government is justified in feeling the heat of more than 410 kgs of gold (valued above Rs 70 crore) lying unused with it. Perhaps not a great amount to catapult the state economy into a thriving one, nevertheless a decent amount to do the cleaning job in at least the shrines to which the treasure belongs. According to a report, in 2006, Chintpurni Devi temple, the richest of all shrines in the state, alone made a collection of over Rs 20 crore cash besides more than 20 kg of gold. That is certainly lot of money considering that majority of Himachali companies, if there are any genuine ones, may not be having that kind of yearly turnover.

 

This would certainly make one believe the shrine might be heaven on earth, or at least a poor imitation of it with decent civic amenities. But that is certainly not the case. A visit to the place would make you realize that on reaching there you would be charged Rs 50 as parking fee and will yet be made to jostle through chaotic traffic of vehicles and humans. And that's just the beginning. The journey up the hillock can be more condescending. The story of filth and poor infrastructure being the same for all shrines in the state. The situation is particularly bad during navratras when lakhs of devotees, most of them from outside the state, flood these temples. The situation becomes so pathetic that it nearly becomes torturous to even pass through these temple towns, leave aside paying obeisance.

 

Though from time to time people have been questioning use of funds generated by these temples, hardly has any such audit ever been made public. The last time a hue and cry was made was after the Naina Devi tragedy but nothing great seems to be happening. The temples are collecting public money and therefore the public needs to be informed how this money is being spent. Leave aside providing world-class infrastructure, the temple managements can at least assure cleanliness, and I am sure the crores that devotees donate are enough for this job. It would have done a great service to the devotees had the government announced that the interest it expects to earn from these gold reserves would be used to keep these places clean, but that was not to be.

 

It is rather a great irony that in a country where half of the population still lives a poverty-stricken life, religious institutions are 'filthy rich', making them power centres. Another noteworthy fact is that most of this money comes from the not-so-privileged class that is made to believe in the supremacy of their faith. The problem is more visible in the Hindu society with the Brahaminical order making sure that the caste divide remains visible enough. Perhaps, that's the reason cleanliness in a Hindu temple stops beyond the sanctum santorum. Can we change this? Perhaps yes. Are the RSS volunteers listening?

 

Satyakam Bharti