Some of it is spent on salaries for priests, food for pilgrims, building repairs and clothing and gems for the idols. But most of the riches stay within the temple. Accumulating a treasure is often seen as a blessed act that bolsters the temple god’s glory.Although a $21 billion hoard in a country where more than 400 million people live on less than $1.25 a day might seem excessive, some Hindus say the bounty belongs to the god Vishnu, and any distribution would betray the wishes of donors and wind up in the pockets of corrupt officials.”If the government got its hands on this, it would disappear within two weeks,” said Sheeban Chacko, 24, a hospital worker.Over the centuries, the state of Kerala grew rich selling pepper coveted by Europeans to mask rotting food fine fabrics, rope for ships, rubber and rice.Much of that wealth ended up in the temple at Trivandrum, through donations from worshipers or taxes levied on tenant farmers who worked the temple’s landholdings, which at their peak were larger than the state of Maryland.More gems piled up after 1729, when the Travancore dynasty, the area’s hereditary rulers, “gave” the kingdom to Lord Vishnu and the temple, ruling thereafter “on the lord’s behalf.”Royals who missed daily temple visits had to pay fines in gold, and one rather eccentric ruler did so every time he lost his temper.Once a lifetime, each monarch donated his weight in gold.
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