Sunday, August 10, 2014

World's Richest God Thirumala Thirupathi Balaji Temple

The richest shrine in India, perhaps even the world, the Balaji temple in Tirumala is an abode of abundant wealth. No doubt, he's one of the world's richest god and going by the number of pilgrims visiting his abode, he could arguably be the most powerful one too. The value of his worldly possessions seems to be almost half of the Andhra Pradesh budget of Rs 1 lakh crore. And the onus of protecting his worldly possessions rests with the trust manning his abode.

The ancient and sacred temple of Sri Venkateswara is located on the seventh peak, Venkatachala (Venkata Hill) of the sacred Seshachalam ranges and lies on the southern banks of Sri Swami Pushkarini.

It is by the Lord’s presidency over Venkatachala, that he has received the appellation, Venkateswara (Lord of the Venkata Hill). He is also popularly known as " Lord of the Seven Hills ".

The temple of Sri Venkateswara has acquired unique sanctity in Indian religious lore. The Sastras, Puranas, Sthala Mahatyams and Alwar hymns unequivocally declare that, in the Kali Yuga, one can attain mukti, only by worshipping Venkata Nayaka or Sri Venkateswara.

The benefits acquired by a piligrimage to Venkatachala are mentioned in the Rig Veda and Asthadasa Puranas. In these epics, Sri Venkateswara is described as the great "Bestower of Boons". There are several legends associated with the manifestation of the Lord of Tirumala.

The temple has its origins in Vaishnavism, an ancient sect which advocates the principles of equality and love, and prohibits animal sacrifice.

The sanctum sanctorum of Tirumala Temple houses the awe-inspiring seven-feet idol of Lord Venkateswara which has been attracting millions and millions of unending devotees across the universe since several centuries.

According to a centuries-old belief, Kubera, the Hindu god of wealth, gave a huge amount as a loan to Balaji or Venkateswara Swamy when he was marrying goddess Padmavathi. Balaji promised Kubera that in return, the offerings made by his devotees would go to him. If one were to estimate the wealth of Balaji in Tirumala, it would not be wrong to conclude that all the sues have not only been paid in full, but in far excess as well.

Every day close to 70,000 devotees or even more visit Tirupati Balaji temple. Even a rough estimation of the assets or properties of Lord Balaji put the total value at anywhere between Rs 75,000 crore and Rs 1,00,000 crore. This includes fixed assets like lands, buildings, jewellery and Hundi collections and donations.
Every year, more than 1.80 crore devotees offer money and gold to make Tirumala the richest Hindu shrine. This year ( 2009 ), the temple's earnings have already crossed Rs 900 crore. Last year ( 2008 ), it was Rs 675 crore.
Total collections from Hundi offerings alone are Rs 360 crore till now, while Rs 226 crore accrues annually from bank deposits. "Even eight years ago, we used to clear the Hundi only once or twice in a day. Now we have to do it at least 10 times in a day," says Deekshitulu.
In many cases, the donantions are unusually generous. Karnataka minister Gali Janardhan Reddy, for instance, had offered a diamond-studded crown worth Rs 42 crore to the God          6 years back. 
The Hindu scriptures say the idol of Balaji emerged here on its own. Vijayanagar King Krishna Devaraya built two prakarams or outer walls to the shrine. He visited the temple whenever he had to wage a war. And everytime he won a war, he attributed his success to the blessings of Balaji.

The 9th century temple is the jewel in the crown of Hinduism. Lying 3,200 feet above sea level and having an area of about 10.33 square miles, it is the world's most active religious destination attracting more than 55,000 to 75,000 pilgrims from all over the world every day.
"Before the 90s, a majority of the devotees were from the southern states. Now because of globalization, devotees come from all over," says Dr A.V. Ramama Deekshitulu, the chief priest of the temple.

Comprising the lion's share of the wealth are the jewellery and the fixed assets. Interestingly, several medieval Muslim rulers and Christian colonial rulers have made rich donations in this respect. For instance, Mughal ruler Shahjahan donated an eight-layered gold chain that weighs over 100 kg. Jehangir too donated gold ornaments studded with valuable stones. Later, King George and Queen Victoria also donated several gold ornaments embossing their names on them.
"Traditionally, we have been using these ornaments during annual Brahmotsavams every year," says Seshadri Swamy, the Par Pattedar (Custodian of Jewellery) of the Devasthanam.

According to sources in the Finance Department, the value of the gold ornaments donated by King george and Queen Victoria could be more than Rs 30,000 crore. There are five diamond crowns for the lord. And there are already two sets of gold ornaments adorn the idol from top to toe.
Although the Devasthanam does not accept silver ornaments, devotees still drop hundreds of kilos of silver in the Hundi every year, says Seshadri.

The Gold and Diamond Treasury of the Lord is getting fuller by the day. "More than Rs 10 crore worth of jewellery gets added up every year," says Anitha Shah Aakella, the financial advisor and chief accounts officer of the Devasthanam. "We get various types of jewellery, even from designers from all over the country," says Shah.

Not less than 100 Niluvu Dopidees take place every day. Niluvu Dopidee is a ritual in which devotees giving away all the ornaments on their body at the Hundi. Devotees promise to the lord that they would drop all their ornaments in the Hundi if their wishes are fulfilled. It was said that both Jaya Bachchan and Tinu Ambani offered the Niluvu Dopidee to the Lord. Amitabh Bachchan offered Rs 11 crore worth of ornaments when he recovered from his illness.


Interestingly, all the assets are in the name of lord Balaji only. Even the Tirumala belongs to Balaji. Since centuries, devotees have been donating valuable land to Balaji. They simply drop land documents in the Hundi. Officials of Hundi keep them safely in the lockers. Some devotees have donated hundreds of acres of their land, an assessment of which is not possible. "One life time is not enough to put the documents in order, let alone assessing the value of lands," says A.P.V.N. Sarma, the executive officer of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam. "We have sold out some of the lands which were in far off places and deposited the money in banks. But we have not completed the task of documenting all these papers," he added.

According to Devasthanam sources, the value of the few known and identified lands is worth more than Rs 10,000 crore.

Assets for this Lord :

To protect this asset, the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam ( TTD) board has decided to buy insurance cover on the jewellery of Lord Venkateswara, valued at around Rs 52,000 crore. The decision will throw open the country's biggest gold insurance market. "No single insurance company can underwrite such a risk on its own books...," said a senior official of a large non-life firm.

The board is looking at partnering a state-owned general insurance firm for insuring these assets. The insurer who gets the mandate will have to strike a reinsurance deal with an international reinsurer.

The temple owns about 20 tonnes of gold and diamond jewellery and some of them date back to the 12th century. "We have decided to take insurance cover for these valuable assets. Considering that some of these jewellery come under antique category, it will be insured based on its historical value. Currently, we are in the process of assessing the exact value at which these assets can be insured and we have an in-house team looking into it. Only after the completion of the valuation process we can go for an insurance cover and then we will decide on the formalities for selecting the insurance company,'' said a TTD official.

Despite TTD's efforts, insuring the wealth of Tirupati Balaji seems to be a mammoth task, and has remained an unfulfilled wish. Insurance experts say the premium can be quite high considering the risks involved and antique characteristics of the assets.

Arriving at antique value of jewellery can be a huge challenge for TTD as they need to have documentation to prove historical significance. Insurers say if all the gold is in one place it would require reinsurance support and this might call for survey's.

Tough to put figure

TTD is still at a stage where it is trying to estimate the value and would only then hold discussions for a cover. Usually government departments proceed on their insurance plans by issuing an RFP (request for proposals) followed by submission of bids.

Though TTD is yet to come out with exact valuation of the assets to be insured, preliminary data shows it could be over $10 billion. This can be considered as the largest in terms of assets in a single location, considering that over 80% of the valuable assets belong to the sacred temple of Sri Venkateswara located on the seventh peak, Venkatachala (Venkata Hill) of the Tirupati Hill. TTD maintains 12 temples and their sub-shrines.

Till now, ONGC with assets spread in several locations, has the largest insurance cover of $26 billion.
The TTD keeps all its money in SBI, Andhra and Vijaya Banks.

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