Former chief minister and senior Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan’s suggestion that the government should borrow gold lying with religious trusts in the country in the wake of financial crunch amid Covid-19 pandemic has stirred controversy as several organisations and temple trusts have strongly opposed the idea.
Many blamed Chavan for targeting only Hindu trusts.
Chavan had, on Wednesday, tweeted, “Government must immediately appropriate all the gold lying with all the religious trusts in the country, worth at least $1trillion, according to the #WorldGoldCouncil. The gold can be borrowed through gold bonds at a low-interest rate. This is an emergency.”
He said that it can be borrowed at the interest rate of 1-2% in the form of a loan. However, some did not like the idea.
Chavan on Thursday said that his idea was not a new one and that the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government had actually introduced the gold monetisation schemes. “The Vajpayee government in 1999 introduced the gold deposit scheme (GDS) as an aftermath of economic sanctions after May 1998 Pokharan Atomic tests. The scheme was targeted at individuals and institutions asking them to deposit gold in the banks. On November 5, 2015, PM Narendra Modi’s government modified the GDS and introduced the gold monetisation scheme which still exists. According to a finance ministry report, 20,547 kg of gold has been mobilised by 2,952 entities between November 2015 and January 2020 under the scheme. Two temples from Maharashtra have deposited their gold with 11 banks,” he said.
There was a move by the Congress to take over the gold held by the temples,in 2013,while Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister.The idea to take over the gold held by major temples in India—from Tirupati to Shirdi to Siddhivinayak to Padmanabhaswamy,then came straight from the horse’s mouth, from a person named Jamal Mecklai, an advisor to the RBI:
“The finance minister and RBI governor should jointly — and immediately — approach the trustees of TirumalaTirupatiDevasthanams (TTD),” said Jamal Mecklai, chief executive of Mecklai Financial. “Three of these (trustees) are state government appointees, and given the current political dispensation this is a distinct advantage, “he had said.
Jamal Mecklai’s statement then and Prithviraj Chavan’s statement now only underscores the urgency of the need to liberate Hindu temples from the stranglehold of state control. It is one thing that most state-controlled Hindu temples are in appalling shape. Indeed,both individuals and organizations have been tirelessly campaigning for temple liberation for decades. Now their worst fears have horribly come true—that the state can and will loot or otherwise tread roughshod on Hindu temples. Jamal—who is a Muslim—didn’t recommend the state to approach mosques and churches for the purpose. The Church is one of the biggest landowners in India, and Waqf boards own enormous expanses of land.
Others have argued that all idle gold is useless and that “true wealth is made every day by men getting up out of bed and going to work. By school children doing their lessons, improving their minds.” And based on this reasoning, recommended the Padmanabha Swamy temple trustees to “use their vaults as a reserve to back a new, well-managed currency.” This sounds like a perfectly sensible argument except that it misses two crucial points: one, it lacks both the historical and cultural sense of what temple gold/wealth actually implies, and two, ignores the venality of the Congress party and the governments it has led so far.
Temples used to be built by kings or communities or guilds or individuals. Temples that were built by kings were managed directly by the king. In case of pre-existing temples, the king would allow the management to run as before and in some cases, would make land grants and donations. Almost every temple of known and unknown antiquity has elaborate inscriptions that describe how the management of the temple was structured.
Temples that were built by private people were managed by a group of people—akin to a board of trustees in today’s parlance—known as sthanikas. These sthanikas were typically locals (hence the name sthanikas, meaning people from a sthana or locality) and were drawn from all the four varnas. Decisions on major and minor matters were taken collectively.
Temple management was further subdivided into two vargasor classes:
-The Archakavarga—the body of priests who performed pujas and other rituals.
-The Paricharikavarga—the staff who were in charge of cleaning the temple, supplying essential commodities, maintaining the temple, and such other tasks.
Both these classes were accountable to the sthanikas and stood the risk of punishment for any wrongdoing. While the Archakavarga received a salary and some emoluments in kind, the paricharikavargawas provided with arable land, clothes, food grain, a part of the collection of temple funds, and an annual sum of cash (like a bonus).
In fact, a temple was not just a place of worship but was a force that sustained an intricate economic system. Every temple had—apart from its daily puja—specific pujas unique to it. Every such puja mandated the use of prescribed amounts dravya or material—for example, specific quantities of camphor, incense, flowers, milk, sugar, jaggery, spices, prasadam (offering), artwork like rangoli, and so on.The same applied to more elaborate rituals like havans and yagnas. This system directly helped sustain the livelihood of hundreds of people engaged in various occupations, businesses, and skills.
We can also discern this temple economy in two other ways:
Graamashritaaalaya: This literally means “a temple which is sustained by the village/town.”In this case, the entire village or town contributed to the protection, maintenance and preservation of the temple.
Aalyaashritagrama: This means “a village/town which is sustained by the temple.” Classic examples of this include most temple towns in South India, where the entire village/town is sustained by the temple.
The wealth of Hindu temples was divided into sthirasti and devasva. Sthirasti means all the lands and physical structures like temple buildings, wedding halls, tanks and so on that belong to the temple.
Devasva literally means that which “belongs to God.” And it is this which concerns us in this context. Devasva includes things like jewellery, gold, diamonds, and other precious metals which are offered to the God of a particular temple.This forms part of what the dharma of daana (charity or offering) about which a wealth of treatises exists.All those millions of Hindus who make such offerings to temples even today unconsciously follow this dharma. And once this offering is made, nobody has the right to touch it much less alter or sell it for whatever reason—nobody, not even the temple to which the offering has been made can touch it. At best these temples are merely custodians of the offering.
The best illustration of this principle can be had in the very temple whose gold the venal Congress Government eyed—Tirupati. The Venkateshwara temple at Tirumala continues to abide by a timeless tradition, which says that once any offering goes into its hundi, it belongs to the Lord and cannot be reclaimed by the donor himself. There is in Tirumala, another deity named “Koluvu Srinivasa,”regarded as the presiding officer of the entire temple and all affairs associated with it.
The role of Hindu temples as mere custodians of the gold and jewelry made as offerings has deeper roots. As custodians, they do not have the right to alter or sell this because it does not belong to them. In another sense, temples also act as the trustees of the devotion of the people who make these offerings to God.The offering is merely an outward symbol. The devotion is real. And it is of this that temples are the trustees.
And so, the planned temple heist emanating from the rotten core of the depraved Congress psyche is actually the theft of the devotion and trust of nearly a billion Hindus. Temples like Tirumala remain the custodians of offerings dating back to hundreds of years. Almost every major and minor king has made offerings to such shrines—an act indicating that his wealth and kingdom are subordinate at the altar of pure devotion.Thus, there is something deeply troubling and infinitely evil about a mind-set that wants to grab the money of such people, of the devout that are long dead. This then is the real theft planned by the Congress.
At the close of every night, the temple priests and staff give an account of the offerings they have collected that day and close the accounts for the day in his presence. More importantly, this ritual has remained intact till date, even after the lapse of several centuries.Indeed, the same or similar ritual applies in varying degrees for example, to Kashi where Kala Bhairava (Shiva) is known as the Kotwal of the city. Indeed, the word “kotwal” is a corruption of the Sanskrit Kshetrapala, meaning the policeman of the city.These rituals symbolize a lot.
The Italy led Congress lust for Hindu temple gold also has other sinister implications. It aims to kill two birds with one stone: grabbing temple wealth will automatically stop Hindus from donating to temples, which in turn will eventually lead to the destruction of the temple culture. And by implication, this destruction will also lead to the death of one of the defining hallmarks of Hindu culture and society.
The Congress party has always been both the originator and the loudest drumbeater of secularism. And so the question remains: who or what gives the moral right to a secular party or government to interfere in the affairs of a religious institution? And if it is somehow endowed with this moral right, why doesn’t it extend its interference to other religions?
Two things should serve as a warning to the Congress that has embarked on this dangerous adventure.
The first is history. Sri Harsha who ruled Kashmir in the 11th Century CE was infamous for looting temple wealth. The 7th Taranga of Kalhana’sRajatarangini describes how the people of Kashmir reached the end of their tolerance with Harsha and beat him to death. And Harsha ruled for 22 years.
The second concerns a warning in verse concerning charity.
He who usurps or snatches the charity (grant, gift, donation, land) whether that charity was made by himself or by others, will suffer for 60000 years as a worm in the gutter.
This verse was compulsorily inscribed on every daanashasana (inscription found on land/temple grants), and can still be found on the walls or stone inscriptions of old Hindu temples and similar structures of antiquity.
Director and Chief Editor, India Facts Research Centre, the author of Tipu Sultan: the Tyrant of Mysore.