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All That Glitters Is Not Gold

By Rajesh C. Oza Email By Rajesh C. Oza
December 2011
All That Glitters Is Not Gold Dear PMG,

My friends and I were astounded to learn that a temple in Kerala was found to have $22 billion stored in its vaults for decades since Independence, if not centuries since the temple was built in the 16th century. The Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple apparently saved gold coins, gold statues, jewels, and precious stones to serve as a backstop for the state’s treasury while also serving the needs of the devotees.

While it is understandable that a temple needs funds to sustain itself and often uses donations to help the needy, this case seems exceptional.

Some of my friends say that the money should stay with the temple trust that the royal family established; others say that the government should seize control of such the assets; and still others say that an NGO should be asked to manage it.

Your thoughts, please.

 

Dear Friend,

“The temples were like spiritual hospitals, and the sinful, who were spiritually diseased, had the first right to be ministered unto by them.” (M. K. Gandhi)

Spiritual hospital? Spiritual classroom? Spiritual cafeteria? Spiritual bank? To be sure, India would not be the land that it is without the countless places of worship of many faiths. Although many purists would prefer a solid line separating the sacred and the profane, it is important to recognize that temples require monetary support to keep the fire burning.

But what to do when a temple has “money to burn”? The Tirumala temple complex at Tirupati provides one answer: manage the whole affair in a business-like manner while offering the public an opportunity to both contribute to the riches and benefit from them. The Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar has a related model, with its upper floors covered in gold and its volunteers taking full responsibility for food preparation and distribution. And the Birla Temples across the country take a slightly different route, operating more as philanthropic bodies run on wealth generated by a business family.

The Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple requires a somewhat different approach, something more akin to winning the lottery. The same way that a lottery winner who has a fine life should continue living that life without making any extravagant change, assuming a deep satisfaction between the temple and the community it serves, why should it change a thing? The billions of baubles need not dictate a new path of action; instead, the temple’s caretakers might want to take this as an opportunity to reflect on its mission and use the funds to fulfill it.

[Dr. Rajesh C. Oza serves as a consultant to organizations and individuals requiring change leadership. We invite questions for consideration in the PMG column at raj_oza@hotmail.com.]

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