Hindu temples & their economic worth, VHP-backed ‘Know your temple’ initiative

That Hindu temples from time immemorial have been gifted societal wealth from the faithful is well known. Now, the VHP-backed Akhil Bharatiya Sant Samiti general sec, has said that India's Hindu temples hold 22,000 tonnes of gold and provide employment to crores of people; the body has been demanding loosening of govt control over temples since 2016
Image: Gyanendra Singh Chauhan | Creative Commons

New Delhi: Tirupathi, Kashi-Viswanath, Somnath, did you know that India’s temples own gold worth a staggering 2 trillion dollars? That temples and pilgrimage sites provide employment to 35 crore people?

Launching the ‘Know Your Temple’ initiative in Delhi yesterday, June 27, this information was shared by a senior functionary of the Akhil Bharatiya Sant Samiti (ABSS) at the launch of the ‘Know Your Temples’ initiative Tuesday. Quoting from a 2015 report of the World Gold Council from 2015, Akhil Bharatiya Sant Samiti general secretary Swami Jitendranand Saraswati said India’s temples hold 22,000 tonnes of gold which is worth as much as 1 trillion dollars.

Doing the numbers, the astute seer said that now that gold prices are almost double since the report came out, it would contribute 2 trillion dollars and, thereby, could help realise the dream of a 5 trillion dollar economy. Sant Saraswati also added that while the government provides employment to 3.5 crore people through government jobs, while temples and pilgrimage sites give employment to 35 crore people. It appears clear where this mission may head.

“I have data that during a certain year, 3.5 crore tourists went to Goa, while 10 crore went to bow down their heads in the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. When they (pilgrims) go to Kashi, they also provide employment opportunities to several locals. They buy Benarasi sarees which give employment to Muslim weavers also. In a way, one temple runs the economy of a whole city,” the Samiti general secretary said.

Eventually, this move aims to provide information on all Hindu temples situated in India and access the world, the Know Your Temples (Jaane Apne Mandir) project is starting with documenting some of Haryana’s shrines like Kalayat’s Kapil Muni temple, Chameli Van Hanuman temple in Hodal and Nuh’s Pandav Van temple.

Both an app and the theme song of the Vishva Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) initiative — spearheaded by Sanjay Mishra, a former journalist and OSD to former Tripura chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb — were also launched at the same function in New Delhi. Deb added his bit to the discussions by stating that while for a long while governments were under the influence of communist ideologies there was a constant attack on Sanatan Dharma but this was now changing. Deb is also the BJP’s in-charge for the state of Haryana.

“The Mughal invaders broke our temples, but couldn’t demolish our culture and religion. Those who used to say religion is opium like the Communists, are going to the temples now,” he said.

Deb, stated on Twitter, that the temple project was an “effort to bring ancient temples on a single platform through the digital medium”. Calling the initiative commendable, he wrote in Hindi, which has been roughly translated, that material related to Sanatan temples, traditions and stories will be released on social media, an OTT platform and a website.

“History is a witness that in every state, battles were fought to protect the Sanatan Dharma — whether it was Maharana Pratap, Ranjit Singh or Shivaji Maharaj. The five markers of Sikh identity were worn to protect the Sanatan Dharma,” reported ThePrint from the event.

At the same event, VHP general secretary Milind Parande reiterated the Parishad’s long standing demand of freeing Hindu temples from the control of government.

“Hindus donate hundreds of crores in temples. It should be our right to know whether this money is being spent for the welfare of Hindus, or on something else. It is good to remember our history but if we do not learn from it, our geography will change,” he asserted.

“More than 30,000 temples were destroyed in a period of 100 years. We need to introspect why this situation arose, and pay attention to building a society where not even one temple can be destroyed,” Parande added.

In April, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan had actually stated that his government was not in favour of having control over the functioning of the temples. The auction of temple land will be done by priests and not by collectors, he said.   At the time, Chouhan had announced that temple priests would be given the right to sell temple land in the state, reports ANI. “The state government will have no control over the activities of the temples. Now, collectors will be unable to auction off the land attached to our temples. The priests associated with the temples will now be able to auction these lands,” he said.

Present at the event held in New Delhi was Bharatiya Janata Party’s Biplab Kumar Deb, former Tripura chief minister and now the party in charge in Haryana; Swami Jitendranand Saraswati, a senior functionary of the Akhil Bharatiya Sant Samiti (ABSS), a top body of Hindu seers and religious leaders; and Milind Parande, VHP general secretary.

Haryana Temples

Among the temples in Haryana are the Chameli Van Hanuman Temple of Hodal and Pandav Van Temple of Nuh and are part of this project. Others include Chandigarh’s Old Shiv Temple and Delhi shrines like the 16th-Century Vishweshwar Temple in Connaught Place and Yogmaya temple in Mehrauli, dedicated to Goddess Yogamaya, considered to be Lord Krishna’s sister.

For a start, the focus is on shrines in Haryana, Chandigarh and Delhi and the Padav Van Temple of Nuh is among the shrines which are part of the project.

Another report in News18 says that Haryana was selected keeping in mind the state Assembly elections next year. The wrestlers’ protest and the farmers’ agitation have given the BJP in the state reasons to worry. Anti-incumbency is another factor. Delhi and Chandigarh, the two Union territories, adjoining the state provide employment opportunities to people from Haryana and hence matter. The choice of these places is studied, sources told News18.

Sanjay Mishra, a former journalist and officer of special duty to Biplab Kumar Deb, is spearheading the project. He has however denied that the initiative is connected to the Harayan elections.

“The reason we started with Haryana is because it is considered to be the home of the Gods. ‘Hari’ translates to God (Vishnu) and ‘Ayana’ is home. So Haryana was a natural choice to kick-start the project,” Mishra told News18.

The control of temples

At the event, Parande once again emphasised VHP’s old demand to free temples from the control of the state. “Hindus donate hundreds of crores in temples. It should be our right to know whether this money is being spent for the welfare of Hindus, or on something else,” he said, according to ThePrint. He also provocatively spoke about a future where not even a single temple is destroyed.

Temple control and wealth

In Maharashtra, since 2014 when the first RSS-BJP led government came to power in the state, there has been an attempt to Sanscritise (Brahminise) Adivasi and other practices especially in the Mahakumbh and now at Adivasis shrines. This recently manifest itself in the unnecessary conflict that broke out at the Trikambeshwar temple around May 13 when a syncretic practice was seized upon by BJP leaders unnecessarily. According to the Vidrohi Sansktri Chalval that had visited the area when tensions were fomented, at root were instigators from the Bhraman Mahasangh and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)

The report of the Vidrohi published in Sabrangindia stated that the tradition of the “Urs” is part of an age-old assimilative tradition and hence the attack on the Oop Dhoop practice is people’s assimilating tolerant traditions. The samadhi of Nivruttinath is here. So Hindus. Muslims, Christians, Dalit Bouddh, Adivasi Nath Community, Naga Sadhus all live here together. Doing an Oodh dhoop during the sandal of Gulabshah is an ancient tradition.

According to the team of the Vidrohi who visited there, the motive behind the move to provoke violence was the ploy to undermine the Karnataka election results. “Organisations affiliated to the RSS tried to create a riot like situation in Maharashtra. The Brahman Mahasangh and the media houses are responsible for creating a hostile environment in the state by using a usual event like this in Tryambak.”

Given the track record of the Viswa Hindu Parishad that is aggressive and violent it is likely that this seemingly innocent plank of “Know Your Temples” may also be used not just for the capture of land and resources but to foment communal conflict.

The ABSS has also intervened in the Supreme Court against same ex marriage and several videos online outline a history of communal discourse.


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