BANGKOK, Thailand -- India's Hindu temples possess donated gold which may equal half of America's Fort Knox bullion, but some are rejecting demands by the government to reveal the value of their sacred stockpiles.

"India's Hindu temples are resisting divulging their gold holdings," Reuters reported on Sept. 30.

For example one of the holiest Hindu temples in India, Kerala state's Guruvayur temple, said it would not describe how much its gold was worth after receiving an official request.

The London-based World Gold Council estimates India's temples possess 2,240 tons worth $84 billion at current prices.

The website of the U.S. Bullion Depository Fort Knox, Kentucky, says its "present gold holdings" total "147.3 million ounces," or about 4,603 tons.

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Concern about huge caches of temples' gold began two years ago when the ancient Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Trivandrum, Kerala, announced it discovered $20 billion worth of bullion in secret subterranean vaults.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is the government's central bank, and earlier this year it began requesting the amount of gold held by temples across India, to determine how much was outside the banking system.

"Temples in India hold large quantities of gold jewelry offered by devotees to the deities," the RBI said in a February report, posted on its website, which analyzed "recycling of domestic gold."

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"It would be worth trying to channel the existing supplies of scrap gold in the country into the financial system, so that the unproductive nature of the gold asset is turned into a financially-productive medium," the RBI said.

Critics suspect the RBI wants to use the gold to buy dollars, or boast that India has huge gold reserves so New Delhi can attract foreign investment and favorable loans, the Hindu newspaper reported.

In Mumbai, the Shree Siddhivinayak Ganpati temple, favored by Bollywood celebrities, voluntarily placed 22 pounds of its gold into a bank account, while keeping 310 pounds at the temple.

On the east coast, in conservative, wealthy Andhra Pradesh state, the famous Tirupati temple deposited 5,000 pounds of gold in an interest-paying State Bank of India account.


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "Hello My Big Big Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final chapter, Ceremonies and Regalia, in a new book titled King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.

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(Copyright 2013 Richard S Ehrlich)