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MUMBAI, INDIA, April 21, 2015 (Washington Post): Workers for the centuries-old Shree Siddhivinayak Temple here spent hours unpacking gold coins, heavy wedding necklaces and lustrous pendants from a closely guarded "strong room." By the time gold buyers began mingling with worshipers at the sweltering sanctuary on Tuesday, the jewelry auctioneers were ready. "This is not a regular gold coin that you would buy from a gold shop -- it contains the Lord's blessing," a temple board member said, holding up a tiny coin, probably left by a devotee years ago. It eventually sold for four times its face value.

Wealthy Hindu temples such as this one are repositories for much of the $1 trillion worth of privately held gold in India -- about 22,000 tons, according to an estimate from the World Gold Council. In 2011, one temple in south India was found to have more than $22 billion in gold hidden away in locked rooms rumored to be filled with snakes. Another has enough gold to rival the riches stashed at the Vatican, experts say. But little of it is contributing to the Indian economy, and now Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is looking to monetize India's vast hidden wealth. In coming weeks, the government plans to begin a program that will allow temples to deposit their gold into banks to earn interest and circulate in the economy, rather than sit idle in musty vaults. The gold, officials say, would be melted down and sold to jewelers.

Many traditionalists, including the boards of many of the country's leading temples, prefer to have their gold locked up rather than circulating in the economy. "The jewelry belongs to God. Why should the government melt it?" asked Chandan Male, 42, a businessman and devotee at the Siddhivinayak Temple. "By auctioning it, the jewelry is only circulating among the devotees."

More at source.



BHUBANESWAR, INDIA, March 26, 2015 (First Post): The death of Sashimani Devi, the last in a long line of devadasis at the Lord Jagannath Temple in Puri, marks the end of an era. Since Sashimani chose not to groom anybody as a future devadasi in her lifetime, as required under the temple rules, an 800-year-old tradition has now well and truly come to an end. While Sashimani might have been persuaded to relent and take someone under her wings, it was the vociferous protests by human and women's rights activists and the media which ensured that the efforts to find a devadasi were abandoned midway.

While liberals, rationalists and sundry right activists are exulting at the end of what they call an "obnoxious" tradition that exploited women in the name of religion, there are others - believers, servitors and even some researchers - who are sad at the end of a system that was such an integral part of the tradition for centuries.

Ironically, the death of Sashimani Devi has ensured that the service of the Lord will now be an all-male affair. Of the 120-odd sevas (services) performed in the temple, the Mahari Seva, consisting of dancing and singing the Gita Gobinda, on special occasions is the only one performed by women, the devadasis.

More at source.



INDIA, April 24, 2015 (The Hindu): Glass fiber ("fiberglass" in the West) has become the new cost effective and light weight medium for sculptures of new temples being constructed. Earlier temples were constructed with stones on which sculptures and carvings were made. With time, temples became concrete structures where stone sculptures or statues of concrete were used for outer and inner decoration. Recently several temples under construction in Berhampur and other parts of Ganjam district have started to use glass fiber sculptures to decorate.

A Budhi Thakurani temple under construction at Lochapada road of the city now boasts of a large statue of Goddess Durga made of glass fibre. It has been constructed by Dhruva Kumar Layak and his team, who preferred glass fiber as it could be created at a small cost of US$472. "Had the same sculpture been constructed with concrete it would have cost around $4,700 and much higher if in stone," said Mr Layak. According to Mr Layak, these glass fiber sculptures are easy to install and are more durable than concrete ones.



He cannot be seen by the eye, and words cannot reveal Him. He cannot be reached by the senses, or by austerity or sacred actions. By the grace of wisdom and purity of mind, He can be seen, indivisible, in the silence of contemplation. This invisible Atman can be seen by the mind wherein the five senses are resting.
-- Atharva Veda



DEHRADUN, INDIA, April 22, 2015 (Times of India): Anil Shukla prays a lot these days. The 39-year-old father of three, who performs pujas for pilgrims at Kedarnath, has been praying fervently that the weather Gods remain benign, and the Char Dham Yatra, which began on April 21, draws in a lot of pilgrims this year. "The last two years were terrible. Earlier, we used to earn between US$3,100 and $4,750 for the six months that the yatra was on, but our incomes dipped to below $790 after the 2013 tragedy. This year at least, we hope that things look up," he says.

Like Shukla, there are many people across Uttarakhand who are voicing similar sentiments. According to state tourism department officials, the yatra provides direct and indirect employment to almost 50,000 people, and has the potential to earn revenues to the tune of $79 million to $158 million. This would make it not only the hill state's biggest annual religious extravaganza but also a massive employment generating exercise.

"The economy of a few thousand villages and some towns is dependent on the Char Dham Yatra," says Ravi Chopra, director of the People's Science Institute, a non-profit organization that takes up environmental and disaster mitigation issues. "I would estimate that there are almost 20,000 service providers for Kedarnath alone. These include priests, dhaba owners, chaiwallahs, mule operators, porters, snack sellers, sweepers ... the list is endless."

* The Char Dham Yatra is an annual pilgrimage to the Himalayan shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. The yatra began on April 21 this year with the opening of the Yamunotri shrine followed by Gangotri on April 22; Kedarnath opens on April 24, and Badrinath on April 26. Huge floods caused thousands of deaths of pilgrims in 2013 and immense loss of buildings, roads and bridges.


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