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Temple economy both stable and inclusive, unlike industries

Sanghnomics is a weekly column that tracks down and demystifies the economic world view of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and organisations inspired by its ideology.

Ever since a mass movement to construct a temple at Ayodhya began in 1980s, there has been a continuous debate on whether we should be focusing on creating jobs or building Hindu temples?  Do temples obstruct creation of jobs?

The colonial historians and the Marxist intellectuals have portrayed temples as merely hoarders of wealth. They have also questioned the use of resources for constructing temples instead of focussing on economic activity.

But contrary to this Marxist and colonial viewpoint, the temples had been nucleus of economic activities for thousands of years. In a decentralised economic model, local temples played an important role and pilgrimage to these temples were a major driver of the economic activities that lead to creation of significant number of jobs.

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These myths related to temples being a drag on the economy need to busted. Sandeep Singh has presented some interesting case studies and data in his seminal work ( Arthavyavastha of Mandir, Temple Economics Vol. I) regarding this.

Quoting a doctoral thesis on ‘Economic analysis of tourism industry in Jammu and Kashmir with special reference to pilgrimage tourism’, Singh brings out some interesting facts.  Approximately one lakh people work in the pilgrimage sector in the union territories of Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh. Around 65% of them work on full time basis and 35% work at least nine months a year. The annual income through pilgrimage economy in context of Amarnath Yatra, Mata Vaishno Devi, Shiv Khori and Hemis Gompa run into thousands of crores.

Singh presents an interesting case study(pp 11, Temple Economics Volume I) that compares industry-based economies and the temple based economies.  To grasp the difference between industrial economics and the mandir-based Arthashastra, let us take an example of Detroit.

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‘Rust belt’ and the nature of industrial economics

Detroit being the heart of the American automotive industry, got the name of ‘Motor City’. The state’s automotive industry provided the model for mass production that was adopted later by other industries. But the US Census data of 2011 says Detroit is dying. From 2000 to 2010, Detroit lost of a quarter of its population. In 2010, it was the 18th largest US city, in 2019, it was the 24th.

Why did this happen? The reason is that it became much cheaper to manufacture cars in several Asian cities and the manufacturing hub shifted from Detroit to these cities. There was nothing else apart from the car manufacturing which could keep consumers linked to Detroit, so the exodus leading to slow death of this city. Other cities which were big losers of population are: Cleveland-17%, Cincinnati-10.4%, Pittsburgh-8.6% and Toledo-8.4%. These cities were once known as cities of New Economy, today, they are collectively known as ‘Rust Belt’.

The pattern repeats with every activity

Atlantic City in the US was a renowned resort city. It was known globally for gambling, shopping and fine dining attracting huge number of people. The city also served as an inspiration for the board game Monopoly. Today it is a dying city. In 1930 its population was 66,198 and as per 2010 survey, it is 39,558. It is 9th in the list of America’s 10 dying cities. It is dying because all over the world more and more cities are offering new formats of gambling, shopping, fine dining and a lot more.

Eternal lives of pilgrimage centres

“Compared to this, some of   the oldest cities in the world with continuous habitation are Varanasi, Madurai, Pushkar, Ujjain etc. None are known for their industry but all of them are known for their mandirsArthavyavastha centred around mandirs  have sustained cities for thousands of years,” says Singh.

He further underlines the reason for these two different economic phenomena, “Industrial economics has a finite time period while mandir-based Arthashstra is eternal. Industrial economics is about profitability of an individual or corporate. It is not about well-being of citizens or society. While in case of mandir -based Arthavyvastha (economy), it is about well-being of its devotees, vendors or customers, i.e., everyone in the value chain.”

It may be mentioned here that, several Indian ancient texts such as Suprabhedagama, Vijayagama, Analagama, Prodgitagama  have laid down details of  socio-economic activities that need to be taken up by the temples that help in equitable economic growth benefitting all sections of the society especially the vulnerable ones.

Some these activities,…

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