Indian Temples Have Over 1 Trillion in Wealth, But the Government Does Not Know How to Use It

It’s true that Indian temples currently hold (WAY) more than 1 trillion rupees in accumulated assets and donations—from gold, silver, and other precious artifacts to countless fiat cash. But much of this vast religious subsidy has yet to be transformed into social and economic value for the communities and the Indian population.


Temples will continue to receive generous donations daily, but the lack of a sophisticated policy on temple funds administration has meant that a significant portion of this wealth remains unused—which is quite shameful.


With mass poverty and social inequalities still prevalent in the country, this unused temple wealth could be better channeled to support many nation-building initiatives: Police reforms, education reforms, administrative reforms, and law reforms, to name a few.




Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple


The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) in Andhra Pradesh is considered the highest-grossing temple in India. It earns over $300 million annually from offerings made by millions of devotees visiting the hill temple and its daily rituals. The Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, is believed to hold a treasure worth a whopping $22 billion (over I trillion INR) in its underground vaults B, including tonnes of gold coins, diamonds, and other precious items.




Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams


(Note: More Southern Indian temples are featured here because they faced far less looting and destruction during the Turkic and the European invasions compared to those in North India and Bengal)


Other extremely wealthy temples include the Sri Venkateswara Temple in Mumbai, with over $8 billion. The Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai, with wealth estimated at $5 billion, and the Guruvayur Temple in Kerala, with over $4 billion. These few temples hold a massive chunk of India’s temple wealth. Most assets are gold, silver, and precious stones donated by kings, queens, and local population over centuries. The temples also generate steady incomes from offerings, renting out properties, and other business activities.



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While temples have traditionally been entrusted with preserving people’s donations, there is a growing view that this vast wealth can be better used for social welfare. With hundreds of millions of Indians still living below the poverty line and lacking basic amenities, there are calls for the government to take control of temple funds and direct them toward education, healthcare, and infrastructure development. 


However, implementing this is challenging due to various historical, social, and administrative factors.





Historically, temples in India have functioned as independent institutions of community and education, managing their finances and affairs. Priests and local trusts have controlled temple wealth with little government oversight. There is resistance to any move to bring temples directly under government control, which is seen as interfering in religious matters. Also, most temple assets are gold jewelry, coins, and other precious items stored over centuries as sacred offerings. Valuing and liquidating these to release funds requires immense effort.





Administering temple funds involves complex questions over ownership and usage that reveal inherent tensions. While the government claims legal ownership of temple land and assets, devotees view such offerings as sacred domains of the deities that should remain autonomous. Any diversion of these funds risks a serious backlash from those who faithfully donate. There are also legitimate concerns about whether government bureaucracy can match the transparency and efficiency of localized temple management systems that are directly accountable to devotees.c


However, with millions in India still lacking basic needs and social services, there is a compelling case for the government to find innovative solutions to use better this vast untapped social wealth stored within temples. Direct government takeover would undoubtedly face resistance, but models, where independent boards comprising community members and experts oversee major temples, could offer a pragmatic middle path. 



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Kerala’s example demonstrates how professionalizing administration through such boards has increased revenues while generating surplus funds for welfare- without sacrificing autonomy or alienating devotees. Other states would do well to explore adapting this collaborative governance approach.


Other states like Tamil Nadu have enacted laws to bring temples under government oversight while retaining autonomous trusts to manage day-to-day affairs. The trusts must earmark a portion of incomes – typically 20-30% – for education, healthcare, and infrastructure development. This model aims to ensure some temple wealth is channeled into essential community services without disturbing the religious institutions’ autonomy or priorities.





However, complete transparency in financial management and reporting remains elusive in many cases. Recent RTI inquiries in Tamil Nadu found around $1 billion in unaccounted temple funds, sparking allegations of misuse and calls for reform. According to the latest available data, over 45,000 temples across the state generate estimated annual revenues of nearly $4.5 billion, yet lack standardized oversight frameworks.


On the central level, the 2002 Supreme Court verdict directing states to establish independent boards overseeing rich temples and allocate 30% of incomes to social causes has seen patchy implementation. The government is now drafting a model law to standardize temple administration nationwide along the lines of Kerala’s boards, which comprise community representatives and experts. This aims to balance the interests of devotees, trusts, priests, and broader welfare objectives through collaborative governance. However, successful adoption will require addressing transparency and accountability challenges.


So yes, while Indian temples have a wealth of over 1 trillion rupees, it’s not being used well. With careful reforms, India can put its vast temple wealth to more productive (and much-needed) social use without compromising religious sentiments. 


Innovative solutions like independent boards maintaining transparency can professionalize temple finances. Earmarking a reasonable portion of income for education, police, healthcare, etc., can boost development. 


India’s temples have the potential to emerge as powerful engines of social change alongside their religious roles—and we must take steps toward this.


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