A few years earlier, the World Gold Council estimated gold holdings in India at 22,000 tonnes. Estimates of gold with temples in the country could be 3,000-4,000 tonnes.
Much of this is what is termed ‘idle’ gold — just in lockers of vaults. The central government’s recently launched Gold Monetisation Scheme was one attempt to get these hoards out and put them to productive use. Under it, jewellery and other articles have to be melted to verify the purity and sent to refineries for making bars. However, then, the antique value of any of these will be lost.
That estimate of 3,000-4,000 tonnes with temples was made by this newspaper after talking to such places, to bankers, bullion analysts and research reports. These would be in the form of coins, jewellery and gold articles. Temples also have diamonds, given as offerings; there’s no segregated value-guess on this.
One suggestion that came while talking to benkers and analysts was that it would be worth having a central exhibition centre, with high security, for antique jewellery. Tourists, for one, would like a look and temples could earn from this.
Here are estimates of gold reserves with some of the country’s richest temples. This excludes any surface plating or more of gold.
Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Kerala
This is among the country’s oldest. During a dramatic court battle in 2011 over the riches in this 16th-century institution, a Supreme Court-approved team discovered $22 billion worth, from around 1,300 tonnes of gold jewellery at the then price. Found in five hitherto secret cellars.
Sri Venkateswara Temple, Tirumala, Andhra
By unconfirmed figures, this temple, popularly known as the Tirupati temple, gets 100 kg of gold every month or 1.2 tonnes a year. It is believed to have been constructed over a period, starting 300 AD and is now considered the richest temple in the world, in terms of both donations received and own wealth. The temple is visited by 50,000 to 100,000 pilgrims daily (30-40 million annually; on special occasions and festivals, like the annual Brahmotsavam, the number of daily pilgrims shoots up to 500,000, the most-visited holy place in the world. These figures from Wikipedia give an idea of the offerings.
Its total of gold ornament and jewellery holdings are estimated at $11 billion or 250-300 tonnes. The temple already has 4.5 tonnes of gold with banks as deposits under earlier schemes, fetching yearly interest equivalent to 80 kg of pure gold.
Vaishno Devi Temple
Siddhivinayak Temple, Mumbai
Around 160 kg of gold.
Saibaba Temple, Shirdi, Maharashtra
Possesses 376 kg gold.
Shree Krishna Temple, Guruvayur, Kerala
At a conservative estimate, at least two tonnes of gold with this several centuries-old temple. The central shrine is said to have been rebuilt in 1638. Average annual offerings by the devotees are about 15 kg of gold.
Jagannath Temple, Puri
Built in the 12th century and famous for its annual chariot festival. During the Suna Besha ritual alone, the deities are adorned with gold jewellery weighing 208 kg. No estimate of its gold treasure.
Somnath Temple Trust, Gujarat
Has around 35 kg of gold.
There are several other temples with much gold. Like the one in Rajasthan, established 350 years ago, with huge holdings in its vault. Deity property, says a senior official, and so, cannot be given to banks for earning interest.