Amidst the sea of devotees, I stood transfixed by the glitter. I was staring at the idol, loaded from top to bottom, in precious stones. I was with my family at the Tirupathi Tirumala temple in Andhra Pradesh. With approximately 60,000 devotees visiting every day, donating to the temple great amounts in money, gold, diamond, and other precious items, the temple’s coffers swell by a combined donation of Rs. 1, 30,000 crore, annually.
According to Forbes, this is more than what Mukesh Ambani earns in a year. If the selected and powerful few didn’t horde, or didn’t only look after themselves, India would never have been an average country, financially. Of course, it’s a utopia.
In excess of 50 lac crore worth of wealth is controlled by Indian temples, and it’s really worth a great deal. It can provide free petrol for 500 years, or have free food for almost two years, according to a study into how much can so much wealth do.
Come to think of it, Nepal, facing perhaps the greatest shortage of all kinds of oil any nation has ever faced, can be fuelled for almost forever.
Tirumala Temple, one of India’s richest, most prosperous temples, is controlling nearly 4.5 tonnes of gold. Decorated in gold and diamond, the eight-foot tall idol weighed 1,000 kg! This wasteful display of wealth is not only obscene, it is creating a great divide.
But why only blame temples, and its coterie of a very few controllers. We are equally responsible, if not more for this great divide. We offer, with some ready to offer everything, to the temples in the name of God. It has been said million times, and it can never be enough… the biggest show of affection and gratitude to the higher power should be through good karma, and not through senseless acts of devotion. It only enriches the priests and pot-bellied saints, and it also must enrage God. Did he really intend for us to conduct ourselves this way?
Consider this. During a dramatic court battle in 2011 over the riches in the 16th century Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, in Kerala, a Supreme Court team discovered $22 billion worth of gold. The sacks of gold coins, diamonds, and other jewellery were allegedly misappropriated by the temple officials, the self-proclaimed representatives of God.
I want to leave you with a thought. Do we need a go-between in our connection with a higher Power? Priests decide everything. For how long you can bow before the idol, whether you can even do that, or even enter the temple. They have become the gatekeepers, and for all practical purposes, charge huge entry fees. Looking at it through any other prism would be self-fooling.