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India's Hindu temples start using 'God's gold' to pay bills as pandemic cuts donations
By Swansy Afonso and PR Sanjai
Thursday, September 17, 2020
Collectively, Indians own the biggest private stash of gold in the world, and religious adherents have long donated gold to temples, often to honor deities associated with individual temples. Over the centuries, that has made the country's 3 million religious houses some of the world's largest holders of the precious metal.
But now India's temples -- shut for months because of the coronavirus pandemic and deprived of donations -- are being forced to consider depositing some of their famed stashes of gold with banks to pay mounting bills.
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Hindu temples hold as much as 4,000 tons of the precious metal, according to the World Gold Council, a stockpile as big as Fort Knox's and administered by trusts empowered by Indian law to act on behalf of the deity.
The Travancore Devaswom Board, a prominent temple association in the southern state of Kerala, has for the first time decided to deposit some of its treasures with banks -- which pay interest on gold deposits of varying terms -- to raise funds and pay salaries, according to the board's president, N. Vasu.
The Mint, an Indian financial newspaper, has reported that the Travancore Trust spends about 500 million rupees ($6.8 million) each month on salaries and other costs. "There is some opposition against using God's gold to pay wages," Vasu says. "But we took this tough decision because this is one of the toughest periods we have ever faced." ...
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