India’s ancient, historic, sacred temples are spiritual structures that were designed to bring humans and gods together. They are also home to a treasure trove of billions of dollars’ worth in jewelry, gold bars, and coins which have been collected over the centuries and are hidden away securely in vaults, some ancient and some modern.
Back in July 2011, a story that sounds like a plot line of an Hollywood adventure like Indiana Jones unfolded after an estimated $22 billion worth of gold, diamonds, and jewels were uncovered in a series of secret subterranean vaults beneath the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Hindu temple in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram.
The loot included around 1,000 kilograms (2,205 pounds) of gold coins — some dating back 400 years — ropes of gold, sacks of diamonds, and a gold statue of the Hindu god Vishnu studded with precious gems, as well as an 18-foot solid gold ornament weighing 35 kilograms (77 pounds), and rare silver and brass platters.
Already buying your plane ticket to Mumbai? Not so fast Indiana Jones. India’s ancient temples such as the two-century-old Shree Siddhivinayak temple in Mumbai is heavily guarded by 65 security officers and its vaults are strictly off limits, according to Reuters.
India’s appetite for gold is second to none as the nation is the world’s biggest consumer of gold, and now Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi would like to get his hands on all of this temple gold.
As Reuters reports:
Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to get his hands on this temple gold, estimated at about 3,000 tonnes, more than two thirds of the gold held in the U.S bullion depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky, to help tackle India’s chronic trade imbalance. Modi’s government is planning to launch a scheme in May that would encourage temples to deposit their gold with banks in return for interest payments.
The government would melt the gold and loan it to jewelers to meet an insatiable appetite for gold and reduce economically-crippling gold imports, which accounted for 28 percent of India’s trade deficit in the year ending March 2013.
India’s annual gold imports of 800 to 1,000 tonnes could be cut by a quarter if temples decided to participate in the scheme, say government and industry sources.
Should Modi be successful in recovering all of the estimated 3,000 metric tonnes of gold from these ancient temples, the value would total over $115.5 billion dollars. (troy ounce = $1,198.00, metric tonne = $38.52 million)
However some Hindu devotees are not happy with the idea that their precious gold offerings may be melted down:
A Mumbai-based gold merchant, who said he and his father had donated around 200 kg of gold to Siddhivinayak and other temples over the years, said it would be a sin for the temples to earn interest on the gold offered to the gods.
“I make donations to God; not to any temple trust,” the 52-year-old merchant said.
But Modi’s plan to get his hands on as much gold as possible does not just stop at the ancient temples, he also wants the gold tucked away in the homes of Indians.
As Reuters reports:
Modi would also like to convince Indians to open their family vaults, which hold an estimated 17,000 tonnes of gold in jewelry and other heirlooms.
But it will be much harder to convince Indian families, who sometimes have little faith in financial institutions, to break tradition and hand over gold passed down the generations.
India’s love affair with gold spans centuries is rooted in the Hindu religion. One of the biggest annual buying seasons is the Diwali festival around October to November. Gold marriage dowries are widespread and with 70 percent of the population rural, gold is financial security.
Although highly unlikely, Should Modi be successful in recovering all of the estimated 17,000 metric tonnes of gold from the family vaults of Indians, the value would total over $644.8 billion dollars. (troy ounce = $1,198.00, metric tonne = $38.52 million)
All in all, if Modi were to recover the estimated 20,000 metric tonnes of gold from the ancient temples and from family vaults in India — as crazy as it sounds — and again, which is highly unlikely, the value would total over $760 billion dollars. (troy ounce = $1,198.00, metric tonne = $38.52 million)