Monday, January 11, 2010

Rich Gods of the Poorer People

The Tirupati temple in Andhra Pradesh state of India is competing with Vatican, (some say it has already overtaken) for the amount of wealth it generates each day. Its annual budget is nearly 10 billion rupees, and almost all of it coming from donations! With a golden tower and hundreds of kilos of gold poured into the hundy every year, no one exactly knows how many tonnes of gold the Tirupati Venkateswara temple has. Himachal’s rich temples are too poor to afford security; so, the Himachal Pradesh government is finding it a real burden 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. Why, when I was a child, there was the murder of an auditor of the Murugan Temple in Tiruchendur, Tamil Nadu state, which evoked so much of political heat, as the auditor was supposed to have found that a diamond spear that had been donated was stolen by the temple authorities, and the entire case was highly followed up in the media.

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 states have – perhaps a godly stimulus for a growing economy that is yet to fully integrate itself with the larger speculative world capital market.

But money being money, the state governments are justified in feeling the heat of the gold lying unused with them. Perhaps not a great amount to catapult the state's economy into a thriving one, nevertheless a decent amount to do the cleaning job in at least the shrines to which the treasure belongs. To arrange proper water and sanitary facilities for those who visit the temples; to have proper announcement systems, emergency exits, and crowd control measures to avoid stampedes that kill tens of people across the country each year, and to serve the poor! Even the interest from the earnings of the gold could bring cheers to the lives of many.

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. The last heard news: A catholic cathedral church in a northern diocese of West Bengal is being constructed at a cost of about 60 million rupees, where the tribal Christians live from hand to mouth, and teachers of the schools run by the same church are paid barely rupees one thousand each month. Oh Father, forgive them!

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