Dr. S. Lingamurthy, Assistant Professor, Central University of Karnataka

Ms. Shivanjali Shukla, Doctoral Research Scholar, Central University of Karnataka

India is the land of temples to worship the God and Goddesses and functioning as sacred institutions to perform a range of services and activities such as spiritual fulfilment of the people, dharmic (righteous) discourses, arts, music, dance, economy, education, tourism, a number of social and cultural functions to integrate the society.  Temples attracted generous offerings from the rulers in the past and society at present has made temples as huge stocks of wealth such as land, jewellery, and monetary resources, making these temples as powerful economic institutions in providing employment and livelihoods to millions of people directly and indirectly. Historically temples played a significant role in the all-round development of human beings, be it mental well-being or material progress through economic activities based on Dharma. Many small towns in Telangana like Vemulawada, Basara, Yadadri, Badrachalam, Ramappa, Kaleshwaram, Dharmapuri, Chilukuru, etc. are known as temple towns, economic activities developed around these temples very significantly over temple-based products business and gift items.

Vemulawada Shri Raja-Rajeshwara Temple, also known as ‘Dakshin Kashi’ has its footprints on the society of at least four states which includes; Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Karnataka. Devotees and pilgrims from all these places come to have a ‘Divine Darshan’ at this temple. Outside of the core activities of the temple, the temple acts as an enabler for several other economies which are dependent on it. Most temples give rise to several commercial establishments around them ranging from florists, provision and gift shops, hotels, restaurants, etc, all of which are primarily dependent on the activities of the temple and the pilgrims and tourists visiting it. The number of pilgrims who visited Sri Raja Rajeshwara Swamy temple from 2018 to 2022 was 3.63 crores. The total number of pilgrims who visited Sri Raja Rajeshwara Swamy temple was 1.10 crores in 2018, 1.13 crores in 2019, 53.32 lakhs in 2020, 51.63 lakhs in 2021 and 34.04 lakhs in 2022 (as of 30-06-2022). In 2020 and 2021    the number of pilgrims declined due to the pandemic and the temple was completely closed for three months i.e., from March to May 2020.

The temple also stimulated the development of urban agglomeration and area expansion in Vemulawada. In the year 2010 Vemulawada town had spread to an area of 225 hectares which was less than Husnabad town of 228 hectares. But over 12 years, Vemulawada town has been extended additionally 205 hectares which is almost double the Husnabad town expansion of about 104 hectares in the year 2022. In addition, revenue to Husnabad RTC depot was 16.53 crores and Vemulawada depot was 25.22 crores in 2017-18, and it was 16.77 crores to Husnabad, 25.05 crores to Vemulawada depot in 2018-19, and it was 15.25 crores to Husnabad, 25.36 crores to the Vemulawada depot in 2019-20, and it was 10.58 crores to Husnabad, 14.58 crores to the Vemulawada depot in 2020-21, and it was 13.38 crores to Husnabad, 23.75 crores to the Vemulawada depot in 2021-22 respectively.

Moreover, the temple is also impacting employment. The temple is employing 501 persons in the form of temple staff at various levels, the temple is running a Sanskrit college for which it employed 13 persons, the temple is also running a Sanskrit school (Veda Pathashala) for which it employed 7 persons, in addition to this 7 people are employed in the PUC (intermediate) college, which is also managed by the temple authorities. So, the total direct employment provided by the temple stands at 528.

In general, begging is considered a downcast activity and a sign of unemployment and poverty but begging is not regarded as a discouraging economic activity by the majority of temple followers, but rather as a component of ritual performance and vocation. All temple devotees seek to present cash or kind to the beggars as part of the wealth distribution in front of the temple. During this process, an environment of economic inclusion has been created in front of the temple as some of the beggars didn’t seem to be poor and the beggars were begging in the temple premises with a reason that they have taken “Deeksha” varying from 5, 11, 21 to 41 days and for the sake of their day to day living they are begging as a part of the tradition of Deeksha. This shows how wealth distribution is done in Bharat and beggary is not always a discouraging activity because generally maximum of the beggars are seen in front of temples, which has a relation with Alms giving during ancient times in Bharat.

According to the Pew Global Attitude poll, more than 25% of Indians said they had increased their religious observance over the previous four to five years. The pattern is consistent with other attitudinal studies and holds true for all major religions. In India, the proportion of respondents who said religion was extremely important rose from 71% to 80% between 2007 and 2015. The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data reveals that the average cost of religious travel has increased by more than twice as much throughout this time. Understandably, this is ‘dharmonamics’ that is fast growing and based on current trends, the possibilities are endless. Likewise, business activities are also impacted by the Shri Raja Rajehswara temple and various direct and indirect activities related to the temple. There are around 22 types of shops. The total number of shops during normal days is 1,204, the number of these particular types of shops increases three times during the peak season (festivals and some special occasions) as compared to the normal season. Shri Raja Rajeshwara Temple is completely funding two educational institutions namely Sanskrit Pathshala and SRR Intermediate and Degree College and both of the institutions are located in Vemulawada town with well-furnished infrastructure, faculty, and supporting staff. In these two educational institutions total of 295 students are studying and among them, 185 are male students accounting for 62.71 percent and the remaining 110 students are female comprising 37.28 percent. The entire business which is surrounded by the temple is completely dependent on the temple, even very tiny business persons (cart pullers, hawkers) get significant business every day and earn a profit of about Rs. 500-600 per day in a normal season and it will be three times higher during the peak season.

Vemulawada Temple Revenue for the year 2021-22 is 206.68 crores, which comes from hundi (28.96 Cr); temple Sevas (Rs. 43.96 Cr); income from temple assets (Rs. 16.43 Cr); return from temple properties (Rs. 90.91 Cr). For the last seven years (FY 2014-15 to 2021-22) accumulated revenue of the temple is 1056.76 Cr. Temple is paying tax to the Vemulawada Municipality Rs. 98.44 lakh every year and the temple is paying to the State Government as an Endowment and Administrative Fund every year @12% of total revenue. During 2021-22, the temple paid Rs. 12.81 Cr to the Government of Telangana. The Vemulawada Municipality is getting surplus revenue through temple business activity of Rs. 1.5 Cr. Whereas, Vemulawada Municipality spends Rs. 60 lakhs per annum for providing basic amenities & services for the pilgrims. So, in totality Vemulawada temple is providing direct employment to 528 people and indirectly through business activities to about 1500 families and 2500 workers.

In consideration of the discussed figures the policymakers, academicians, intellectuals and civil society needs to consider the temples as an integral part of economic development, particularly in temple surrounding areas, and that too without any investment by the Government. There is a high scope of tourism development in and around Vemulawada temple and its network of temples inside Vemulawada and outside temple town such as Kondagattu Shri. Hanuman Temple, Komuravelli Shri. Mallikarjuna Swamy Temple etc. Therefore, the government of Telangana should consider development of this temple and promotion of tourism from across the country. The government of Telangana should also invest the amount on temple development whatever the amount it is getting in the form of an Endowment Fund. So far, there is no return to the temple from the Government of Telangana, and Vemulawada Municipality is already getting a huge amount from the temple as tax, but there is no significant investment from the municipality to maintain the temple premises. Municipality authorities should provide all basic facilities with quality service to the devotees & pilgrims surrounding the temple premises. This will lead to a hike in the number of pilgrims and tourists to the Vemulawada, thus there is a positivity to earn more income through the temple. So, the government of Telangana should develop this temple by allocating a sufficient budget which will lead to the creation of livelihoods and quality of life for the masses and will lead to more economic and social development around the temple.

Bharatiyas believe their nation has fulfilled one of its post-independence ideals: a society where adherents of many religions may live and exercise freely many years after Bharat was freed from colonial authority. As per a survey by pew Indians of all religious backgrounds compellingly say they are very free to practice their faiths, as this can be seen in Vemulawada. There is a Dargah inside Shri Raja Rajeshwara temple, but only Hindus offer prayers there; no Muslims visit it. This also provides convincing evidence of Hindus’ tolerance for other religions.

(We are thankful to India Policy Foundation for their support and Mr. Shashi Kumar for his assistance throughout this project).