Richest lord of Kaliyuga

The diamond-studded crown gifted to Lord Venkateswara may be the latest, most publicised gift, but it is by no means the only valuable offering...

The Rs 42 crore diamond-studded 2.5 feet tall crown gifted by Karnataka tourism minister Gali Janardhan Reddy on Thursday could be the most significant contribution to Lord Venkateswara's ever growing wealth of gifts but the Lord of the Seven Hills has by now become so familiar with these riches that few are surprised by this latest offering. His riches are such that they are guarded by armed security personnel in a treasury, the location of which remains a closely guarded secret by top brass of the temple . With the total worth of the offerings made to the Lord estimated to be somewhere between Rs 30,000 crore to Rs 50,000 crore, the deity's title of the 'Richest Lord of Kaliyuga' is not without reason.

Devotees enrich Tirumala treasury
While Gali's gift was the seventh crown offered to the Lord, the earlier crowns in his glittering kitty were no small gifts either. In the past, Sri Venkateswara Hatcheries ' owner had gifted a gold crown weighing 13 kg and another business tycoon gifted a 10 kg gold crown. In 2001, an industrialist from Pune had donated a pure gold crown weighing about 14.3 kg costing nearly Rs 1 crore.

Gold and diamond-studded gifts have been streaming into the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam's coffer regularly, more so in the last three to five years. From a diamond parrot to a golden prawn, the 'Srivari Hundi' is glittering like never before since the beginning of this millennium. The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) officials say that the donations have touched an all time high mark since 2005.

In 2005, a businessman from Tamil Nadu donated a valuable golden crown studded with precious American diamonds to the processional deity of Lord Malayappa Swamy, the cost of which was estimated as Rs 2 crore. In 2006, Lord Venkateswara received his most precious set of ear rings (Karnaabharanaalu) when a devotee from Chennai, Alagappa Chettiyar offered diamond studded Karna Patralu worth Rs.1.01 crore and if this offering wasn't enough he went on to give a 'Sahasranamakasulaharam' , golden chain worth over Rs 50 lakh to Goddess Padamavathi.

And in April 2009, when the world was reeling under the meltdown and real estate activity was still at a standstill, a cement baron donated Rs 5 crore worth gloves, Kati and Varada Hastam, to Lord Venkateswara. Not too long ago, a business tycoon from Pune offered a diamond studded parrot and 'Nagabharanams' worth Rs 1.5 crore. Not to be left behind, the King of good times, UB Group Chairman Vijay Mallya donated Rs 7 crores towards the gold plating inside the sanctum sanctorum about three years ago. And last year, when gold prices went through the roof, a Hyderabad-based businessman Rajendran offered Rs 1.7 crore worth Lakshmi Haram (a garland of gold coins) to the deity while another Bangalore-based businessman donated a diamond crown to Goddess Padmavati which was worth Rs. 1 crore.

The not-so-rich, small humble gifts are also quite a booty at TTD. Devotees promising replicas of their limbs in gold if their wish of a cure to an ailing hand or leg is fulfilled, or businessmen dropping gold and silver replicas of cigar packets, liquor bottles, watches, shoes (offerings reflective of the work they do) in the hundi are fairly common. Even smaller offerings such as gold chains etc are collected and sent to the Bombay Mint and the gold melted and sent back to TTD. Some gold is converted into a given number of coins, which is then sold by the temple at the market rate.

Jewel's Day Out
While there are no exact estimates of the value of the jewellery of Lord Venkateswara, since many of these gifts have a high antique value, temple sources peg the entire jewellery property to be worth anywhere between Rs.30,000 crore and Rs 50,000 crore.

All these precious jewels are safe guarded inside the sanctum sanctorum at a sacred hall called Bokkasam (Jewel Gallery), which is guarded by half a dozen armed security personnel and has CCTV cameras installed to monitor every movement in arguably one of the world's richest treasury. There is, in fact, a Thiruvabharanam (holy jewels) register meant to list out the jewellery items. The register has been maintained strictly for gold and diamond studded offerings from the time TTD took over charge of the temple in 1933.

The precious jewels leave the treasury only on special occasions - auspicious days when the Lord is adorned in the diamond-studded love of his devotees. For such auspicious days, the temple priests give the list of jewels needed for the Lord's decoration a day in advance to the temple peshkar and Bokkasam-in-charge. They, under the supervision of temple deputy executive officer, assistant executive officer, and in the strict vigil of security personnel, open the Thiruvabharanam box and take out the items. These items are later returned in the same manner.

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