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The religious economy: $40 billion and growing

Author: Shivaji Sarkar
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 23, 2022
URL:      https://www.dailypioneer.com/2022/columnists/the-religious-economy---40-billion-and-growing.html

Indians undertake more pilgrimages than business trips and spend more on pilgrimage than travel for education purposes

The temple economy is as large as the Indian budget and is sustaining the country. Its contours across religious denominations - Hindu, Muslim and Christians - are much wider than expected. It is changing the society and its financial parameters.

The NSSO survey estimates that temple economy is worth Rs 3.02 lakh crore  or about $40 billion and 2.32 percent of GDP. In reality it may be larger. It includes everything from flowers, oil, lamps, perfumes, bangles, sindur, images and puja dresses. It is driven by the vast majority of informal unprotected labour.

The 2022-23 Central government revenue is Rs 19,34,706 crore and mere six temples collected Rs 24000 crore in cash alone. There are 5 lakh temples, 7 lakh mosques and 35,000 churches in this country. Top officials as devotees give a kick.

Donations for the Ram Temple in Ayodhya collected in 2021 is Rs 5450 crore, almost equal to Rs 5000-crore defence budget. It surpassed the collection in the first phase.

Others are Tirumala Tirupati, Rs 3023 crore; Vaishno Devi, Rs 2000 crore, Ambaji, Rs 4134 crore (Rs 5163 crore in 2019-20), Dwarkadhish, Rs 1172 crore, Somnath, Rs 1205 crore, Golden Temple, Rs 690 crore. Kamakhya temple in Guwahati, Krishna Janmabhoomi in Mathura, Banke Bihar Mandir in Vrindavan,  Padmanabha mandir, Siddhivinayak mandir and Kashi Vishvanath mandir have similar large earnings.  Gold donations at different temples vary from 130 kg at Tirupati to 380 kg at Shirdi.

The Pew Global Attitude survey shows that more than 25 percent of Indians reported having become more religious over the past four-five years. Between 2007 and 2015, the share of respondents in India who perceived religion to be very important increased by 11 percent to 80 percent now.

Ram Mandir movement and the court verdict has been a game changer. It has poured in huge funding into a region that was one of the most backward. It boosted funding for mosques and Islamic shrines too. During pandemic the silent real estate boom took place in Ayodhya, Varanasi, Vindhyachal, Mirzapur and Mathura. Land prices soared in the most backward places. The premium on land is unprecedented.

Whether religious activities can sustain such places would be interesting to observe. The enthusiasm is high but would it surpass the next industrial revival?

The domestic religious tourism is surpassing the number of foreign visitors. Over 100 crore domestic visits to new destinations suggest there is churning beyond Delhi-Agra-Jaipur golden triangle.

The NSSO figures suggest that 55 percent of Hindus undertake religious pilgrimages patronizing mid and small sized hotels.  Expenses on religious travel are Rs 2,717 per day/person, expenses on social travel, Rs 1,068 per day/person, expenditure on educational travel, Rs 2,286 per day/person. That comes to expenditure on religious travel of Rs 1316 crore per day and an annual expenditure on religious travel of Rs 4.74 lakh crore

This NSSO data says that Indians do more pilgrimage than business trips and spend more on pilgrimage than traveling for education purposes.

The government has chalked out religious circuit tourism. The Ramayana circuit is over the life philosophy of Lord Ram. Along with this, the Char Dham road project has also been prepared. The government has also strengthened the Buddha circuit.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi relaunched Varanasi corridor, Kedardham and Badridham. The government is renovating about 50 thousand temples in Jammu and Kashmir. No other prime minister made the visit to religious shrines an event.

The dargahs of Chisti, Aulia, Charar-e-Sharif, Jama masjid of Bhopal, Delhi and other shrines have large income in cash and kinds. Similarly various churches also have decent incomes. The movement for Ram temple in Ayodhya stated to have increased the incomes for most Hindu and Muslim shrines. The earnings of the Hindu temples are known to some extent but whether it is the Ajmer dargah or other Muslim shrines they are shy of telling the approximate figures.

The holy fund is changing the politics, hospital administration and even university portals and more. Dishing out degrees is not difficult and that becomes a money spinner.

During demonetization, some heads of mutts were in the news for their wide connections and effective delivery. Their services were not limited to India. They could deliver new currency notes with ease even in dollars to Dubai, Canada, England or other destinations at premium price. The hawala linkages help.

They are good at balance sheet manipulations Even scrapped notes were exchanged with élan. Yes, these are done to adjust the murky money.


-The writer is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal.
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Author: Alka Dhupkar
Publication: The Times of India
Date: May 2, 2022
URL:      https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/loudspeaker-lessons-for-india-from-a-maharashtra-village/articleshow/91259002.cms

The villagers of Barad have passed a resolution to stop the use of loudspeakers

Barad shows that strong-arm tactics are not needed to curb noise pollution; a simple matter of sitting across a table and discussing can do wonders

Barad is a biggish village in Nanded district of Maharashtra with a population of around 15,000. It is roughly 20km from Nanded city. Over time, the village has prospered and places of worship, among other buildings, have been renovated.

The village has 15 religious places — 12 Hindu temples and a place of worship each for Buddhist, Jain and Muslim communities. In some neighbourhoods, these religious places are in close proximity. No problem there.

It was only when these places started using loudspeakers to broadcast sermons, aartis and bhajans that the problem started. It became a veritable Tower of Babel — all noise and confusion.

“Since five in the morning, we used to play songs. In some places, one couldn’t hear the other’s songs or for that matter what was played in our temple,” says Suresh Deshmukh, a trustee of the local Hanuman temple.

For days on end, farmer Sharad Kawle’s 80-year-old grandmother couldn’t get a peaceful night’s sleep because of the rampant use of loudspeakers in the village.

But all this is in the past now. In charged times like these, Barad stands out as a model of communal harmony. Back in 2018, the villagers unanimously decided to remove loudspeakers from all religious places.

So, what happened in 2018?

According to deputy sarpanch Balasaheb Shankarao Deshmukh, sometime in December 2017, a Ganesh temple was using loudspeakers to broadcast maha aarti and a Buddha vihar nearby was playing religious songs. This went on till late at night.

“Groups from both sides started raising voices against each other, asking that the volume be lowered. Harmony in the village was completely disturbed,” he says. “Somehow we managed to cool tempers, but the tension simmered.”

But this wasn’t the only incident. A local school kept complaining about noise pollution to the Shiva temple trust and others in their area. The students couldn’t concentrate on studies because there was a kind of competition in using loudspeakers till late night and early mornings among all the religions.

The villagers were fed up. Some of them met after the tension escalated between Buddha and Ganpati followers. During a meeting with the local police, they discussed the proposal of removing all loudspeakers.

Thereafter, the villagers held a meeting with all the religious groups separately. Everybody accepted that the use of loudspeakers was a cause for concern and social discord. The religious trusts said if it was mandatory for all religious groups then they would also stop using loudspeakers.

After the consultations, a special gram sabha was called and a unanimous resolution was passed.

The villagers agreed to use sound boxes instead of loudspeakers. The only caveat: the volume of the sound box should be maintained at a pre-mandated level so the sound does not go beyond the walls of the holy place.

The gram panchayat has already installed around 40 small sound boxes for local announcements such as deaths, vaccination or other government programmes.

After the noise, peace

Yogesh Ratnparakhi, who runs Om Sai Coaching Classes in Barad, says, “In my centre, there are around 100 students and I can’t tell you how happy we all are that the loudspeakers have finally stopped. Earlier, students would use unending noise as an excuse not to study. Now, they properly focus on studies.”

Kiran Mahajan, a trustee of Chandra Prabhu Digambar Jain temple, says, “Ours is a private temple that is open to the public. We too had installed a loudspeaker because others installed it too. But after the removal of loudspeakers, we didn’t lose any devotees. Loudspeakers actually don’t matter.”

Sharad Kawle, the farmer, says, “Many of us in this village are followers of the Varkari bhakti movement. I believe that your religious activity should not disturb others. Keep it personal, so we all supported this proposal.”

His views are echoed by Sardar Sattar Khan Pathan of Jama Masjid in Barad. “We respect festivals of all communities. The kind of communal harmony we have maintained would not have been possible with loudspeakers at each religious place in the village.”

According to Vasant Lalme, a trustee of the Shiva temple, loudspeakers are not essential for singing bhajans or kirtans. “Devotion is a very personal feeling. It can be attained without loudspeakers. We have proved it.”

Model village

Deputy sarpanch Deshmukh, however, is disappointed that his village has not been given due recognition for the innovative solution to the menace of unchecked loudspeakers. The village doesn’t encourage the use of loudspeakers even for political rallies, weddings or other celebrations.

In other ways, too, Barad can be touted as a model village. It has received state awards for cleanliness and drinking water distribution management, open defecation-free status, success of ‘tanta mukti’ yojana (a scheme to clear local disputes at the village level) and other achievements.

The village has 20 CCTV cameras, which have helped curb theft, sexual harassment and other crimes. The village has developed a proper watershed system; a dormitory near a rural hospital is a unique feature of the village. It has also built a hostel for girl students, it has a zilla parishad school, multiple anganwadis, among other facilities.

As the noise over the use of loudspeakers at religious places grows louder and various state governments are using strong-arm tactics, perhaps it is Barad’s use of consultation that stands out more than its other achievements.