The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has written to two of the richest temples in India, Guruvayur and Sabarimala, seeking details of their stock of gold.
However, Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple -- considered to be the richest after unearthing of a treasure trove beneath the shrine two years ago -- was spared due to an ongoing case in the Supreme Court.
Offering gold bars to temples is an age-old tradition in India, known for its craze for the yellow metal. According to rough estimates, around 20,000 tonnes of gold is stashed away in peoples’ homes and temples.
The Guruvayur temple -- with an annual income estimated at Rs 50 crores -- has a treasure of over 600 kgs of gold.
“We received the letter the other day. We have entrusted the managing committee of the temple to take a final decision,” said a senior official of the Guruvayur temple, who preferred to remain anonymous.
In Kerala, a majority of the temples come under temple administration boards of which Travancore Devasom Board is the biggest.
The second biggest seasonal pilgrimage after Mecca, Sabarimala -- an estimated three crore pilgrims visit the hilltop temple during a two-month season -- comes under the Travancore Devasom Board. Sabarimala’s annual income is estimated to be around Rs 105 crore and about 15 kgs of gold.
In the past too, temple boards have been reluctant to give away their exact worth.
RBI’s regional director Salim Gangadharan has confirmed that letters have been sent to major temples but he said it was only a routine exercise. “The RBI has no plans to buy gold from anyone now and this exercise is nothing but routine,” he said.
Due to the rupee’s downslide and mounting inflation, there were unconfirmed reports that the RBI may approach some of the major temples like Tirupati to buy gold.