One of the richest religious centres in the world, Tirupati attracts devotees, and donations, in millions. The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, the government-run trust that manages the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple, has now opened a demat account to accept donations from devotees in the form of shares and securities. Said to be a first for any god, the demat account is meant to make it easy for the faithful to donate and for the temple to manage this efficiently. Till now, devotees used to submit share certificates in the name of the god in the temple hundi, which administrators were unable to process.
An ancient pilgrimage site with a long history and a magical location on the Seshachalam hills, the Tirupati temple has been the envy of other devasthanams. Other states too have sought to ride the popularity of Balaji by trying to create replicas. The Telangana government is reportedly trying to construct a pilgrimage centre on the lines of Tirupati at the Yadagirigutta Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple and plans are on to build a Tirupati replica at Naya Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh. Needless to say, governments are driven to have their own Tirupatis partly due to the belief that Balaji attracts money.
The lord of Tirupati is a shareholder in many companies and receives dividends and bonuses. The temple receives money, precious metals and stock certificates in donations every year. Last year, the devasthanam deposited 1,800 kg of gold in the SBI gold scheme — the temple has over 5,000 kg of gold deposited with various banks in India.
But Balaji’s riches are also a result of smart financial management. The devasthanam, like an efficient corporate entity, explores all instruments of capitalism to attract wealth — from streamlining the production of prasad, the famous Tirupati ladoo, and sale of offerings by pilgrims to facilitating donations online and through banks, and building top-class infrastructure for visitors. Brand Balaji was born when faith mixed with market economy. It could be a path for other temples to explore.