Still shining: Kerala's 5000-year-old love-affair with gold

Malayalees’ penchant for gold, bordering on obsession, has an undeniable cultural and historical backdrop.
Image used for representational purpose only. (File photo | EPS))
Image used for representational purpose only. (File photo | EPS))

KOCHI: Malayalees’ penchant for gold, bordering on obsession, has an undeniable cultural and historical backdrop.

Express tries to put in perspective the ‘shimmering’ passion that the yellow metal arouses among Keralites, besides taking a look into the aspects that make bullion a preferred option for investment.

Kerala on top
Kerala is the biggest consumer of gold -- both in urban and rural areas -- in India, as per the National Sample Survey Organisation statistics.

Spice for gold
The history of Kerala’s association with gold dates back to the time when global trade in pepper and other spices began over 5,000 years ago. During those days, pepper was so valuable that the spice was traded for gold.

The gold connect
Starting with the birth of a child, when gold ornaments are gifted to the newborn, and all through life, the yellow metal is an indispensable part of Malayalees’ existence. However, the practice of gifting gold on special occasions is a pan-India practice. As per conservative estimates, India’s households own anywhere between 20,000 to 25,000 tonnes of gold, which is equivalent to two-thirds of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Nonetheless, barely 10% of this bullion stock is monetised.

A marriage made in gold

An average upper-middle-class Kerala bride wears 320 grams of gold, the highest among brides in the country. A Tamilian or Andhra bride, who wears 300 grams of gold jewellery, comes second, followed by the Mangaluru bride, who wears 280 grams gold jewellery.

Most jewellery handmade
Nearly 65% of jewellery manufactured in India is handmade and the vast majority of the sector is still characterised by small workshops, each typically employing two to four goldsmiths.

A temple of riches

Another fascinating story of Kerala’s links with the precious metal is the gold in the possession of the centuries-old Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, the richest temple in the world. When six of its secret vaults were opened on the instructions of the SC, a treasure worth $22 billion in golden idols, 18-ft long diamond necklaces and several bags full of gold coins from around the world were found. It is estimated that all the vaults, including the unopened ones, have gold worth $1 trillion.

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