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The Rediff Special/Sharat Pradhan
December 08, 2003
They have ledgers and passbooks like any other bank, and maintain records of their 'depositors'. They do not, however, give you a cheque book, nor do their transactions deal with money. The only currency that works in these banks is the name of Lord Ram. In fact, the size of one's account is determined by the number of times one has been able to write the name of the lord and deposit it here.
Geographical boundaries are of no consequence to these banks. Their clients include everyone from the simple village folk of Uttar Pradesh to well-to-do people living in cities across the country, to affluent non-resident Indians.
The Ram Ram Bank in Lucknow and the Ram Ramapati Bank in Varanasi are not a novel attempt at propaganda by the saffron brigade; these banks run on the wheels of faith even though they function like banking institutions.
The Ram Ramapati Bank even offers loans. If you want to avail of these loans, you don't need to worry about any kind of security documentation. Nor do you need to mortgage your fixed deposits, property, jewellery, or other assets. You don't even need a guarantor.
All you need to do is fill in an application form that details your life's wish (which is described as the loan). The 73 year-old bank, which is housed in the decades-old Benarasi Mansion in the ancient city's suburb Dashaswamedh, will help you try and fulfil your wish by making you write the word 'Ram' 1,25,000 times in red ink. This is considered auspicious.
"That is the mode of repayment," says a bank spokesperson. "You repay your loan by writing the word 'Ram' 500 times every day." Since this has to be done with unfailing consistency, the 'repayment' is completed in exactly eight months and 10 days. If you cannot afford it, the bank will even provide you with the stationery you require to fulfil the loan. This type of loan is known as Ram Naam loan.
The only security the bank requires in return are the personal details of the applicant and a promise that the loan will repaid in the prescribed manner, which includes becoming a strict vegetarian until it is repaid. "When one writes the name of Lord Ram continuously for such a long period and follows strict vegetarianism, one becomes devoted towards Ramlalla, who fulfils the wish written on the first day of taking the loan," explains bank manager Das Basudev Prasad, whose sons and grandsons also serve in the bank. The Prasads prefix their names with Das, which means 'servant', since they consider themselves servants of Lord Ram.
He adds, "The bank loan serves a dual purpose; it fulfils the spiritual need of the applicant and promotes Ram bhakti [devotion]. Besides, one remains thankful to Lord Ram and this helps the bank achieve its objective of awakening a religious conscience in more and more people."
Once filled, the application form is never read again. The repayment -- in the form of sheets of paper with the name of the lord inscribed on them -- find their way to the bank's lockers after being displayed during the regular prayers at the Hanuman temple in Benares. The followers of Lord Ram believe that taking the lord's name helps achieve inner stability and a sense of peace; they also believe it helps achieve salvation.
Prasad says, "The loan can be returned in any script such as Hindi, English or even Roman, but not in Urdu as it is written in reverse order."
The creditor is also required to feed 11 saints on the day he returns the loan and attend the prayers with his 'Ram Naam' papers. In case the applicant is unable to feed the saints for genuine economic reasons, the bank's welfare fund is used for the purpose.
The Ram Ramapati Bank offers three kinds of loans -- the Jaap loan, Mantra loan, and Ram Naam loan. The bank, which boasts of more than 70,000 registered members, gets the highest number of applications for the Ram Naam loan.
The bank is open between 12 noon and 4pm every day.
The Ram Ram Bank in Lucknow does not offer loans, but is just as popular with its depositors. Former junior high school teacher Indra Kumar Tiwari quit his job to launch this bank. "It has been 18 years and nothing could have been more satisfying," he told rediff.com
Tiwari describes himself as a simple man; his home is humble and, until a few years ago, part of it used to be devoted to the bank.
"Initially, we had no option but to keep all the 'account books' in one part of our house. But now, our account holders are increasing at a rapid rate and each one is sending in more and more 'deposits', so we had to shift the deposits to the nearby Jankipuram temple," says Tiwari's wife, who works as a midwife in a government hospital.
Tiwari took charge of the abandoned ancient temple a few years ago and renovated it with his own resources. Today, it is better known as the Ram Ram temple and the crossroad close to Tiwari's house is officially named the Ram Ram chauraha.
However, unlike the modern filing systems that are used in today's banks, the Ram Ram Bank keeps its ledgers in neatly tied cloth bundles that are stacked on specially created shelves. Once they begin to overflow, the older ledgers and 'deposits' are sent to Ayodhya's Valmiki Bhawan. The Ram Ramapati Bank too sends its records here.
Tiwari, 47, explains why he began the Ram Ram Bank. "I was always obsessed with Lord Ram," he says. "But I knew it is not possible for an ordinary man like me to become a mahatma [great soul]. I thought this was a simpler way to get close to Him."
He claims to have written Lord Ram's name at least 10 million times so far. "A local publisher is now providing me with neatly printed and marked notebooks in which the name of Lord Ram can be written 23,520 times. This has made our task much easier," says Tiwari, who maintains a record of the names and addresses of each account holder.
This publisher entered the scene just three years ago. Earlier records show that depositors wrote the name of Lord Ram on just about anything they could lay their hands on. This included waste paper ends, cigarette boxes, and bidi wrappers. "The material on which you are writing Lord Ram's name is immaterial; what matters is 'Ram naam'," explains Tiwari.
He has even instituted an award for the depositor who writes the name of the lord the most number of times in a calendar year. "This is just a humble piece of recognition from the bank," he says.
Image: Dominic Xavier
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