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Gold in Indian Culture
by Vikas Kamat
India's Love for Gold
Indian culture cannot be fully understood without understanding the craze of gold acquisition in India. India is said to consume 25% of all gold production in the world. It is a perplexing phenomenon for economists -- for a poor country like India to buy so much gold -- but I have tried to illustrate the importance of gold in Indian life and culture so this "passion of gold" can be understood.
Indians see gold as a symbol of purity, beauty, prosperity -- so all occasions of life (known as samskaras) use the precious metal. It also explains why Indians are fond of the 24 carat or pure gold.
Gold as "Woman Money"
Gold plays a very important role in Indian culture, as the Hindu tradition ascribed prestige and romance to the yellow metal. Known as "Streedhan" or "Woman's Money", gold is the most coveted form of wealth acquisition in India.
In the past --as everywhere else in the world -- Indian women had no access to money. However they had access to gold given to them by her parents or by her husband, and scholars opine that this formed an important form of currency exchange and asset allocation in India. In times of difficulty, the gold was either sold off or used as a guarantee to obtain a loan, and served as a woman's "saving's account".
Role of Gold in the Dowry System
Especially since the Dowry System became illegal in India, families required to transact money and wealth and the gold filled that void very nicely. That's why we see gold being purchased by families during time of weddings.
Gold as a Symbol of Pomp and Prestige
Gold in Indian Religion
Gold features prominently in religions originating from India -- Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and even in ascetic religion like Jainism. Devotees are supposed to give away "suvarna" or gold in donation to causes and in honor of deities. For instance devotees at Tipupati temple donate gold to help deity Venkataramana of his debt to marry Padmavati. One of the last rites involves distributing wealth (or gold) of the deceased person among survivors or assembled brahmins.
Loans Taken on Gold
Social workers have noticed that especially the poor and the uneducated invest in gold because they do not trust banks or having to deal with strangers for trusting with their life savings.
It is a common practice in India to obtain loans from bank on the gold you own. Most banks have an authorized jeweler who will assess the value of the gold and it is used as a collateral for the loan. Indians routinely use family gold to start businesses, treat illness, arrange weddings or finance travel.
Many Indian novelists have depicted the agony of a family parting with the family gold, or how inability to pay a loan in time can cause a family to lose all their gold assets.
The Role of Black Money
It is estimated that unaccounted money in India is about ten times the officially transacted money and the gold standard provides a very convenient method to stash away undocumented wealth since it is easy to acquire and easy to dispose. One can avoid taxes altogether in India by using weight of gold as a form of currency.
Pictures Depicting Gold Culture of India
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