Watching an afternoon news bulletin on television yesterday I paused to read a crawly rolling off the bottom of the screen noting that Gold prices had breached a new high, 10 gms. topping Rs. 18,000 by several hundred rupees. I assumed the price listed was for 24-carat gold.
Today a newspaper website announced that yesterday over 60,000 couples tied the knot in a single day in Bombay alone. I wouldn’t dare imagine the number across the country. Neither of the two news items was a complete surprise. And like with much of life in India the joy of living and surviving India lies as much in letting the expected surprise you as the unexpected.
Yesterday was Akshaya Tritiya, an auspicious day for Indians seeking to start their innings at the matrimonial altar on a strong footing. It is also an auspicious day for buying gold. This year the day fell on May 16. The year before, Akshaya Tritiya fell on April 27.
In the week leading up to Akshaya Tritiya, newspapers run full page advertisements enticing potential customers into visiting Jewellry showrooms to buy gold.
Akshaya is Sanskrit for ‘never diminishing’ or ‘never ceasing’. And it holds that any venture started on Akshaya Tritiya day is blessed with success and continuity. And it holds that purchases of gold will continue (never diminish) to bring prosperity and good luck when purchased on Akshaya Tritiya. Similarly a marriage conducted on the day will continue to bring good luck to the couple.
It is also a day when marketing teams of newspapers hope to cash in on advertisements from advertisers seeking to reach newly wed couples setting up home after marrying on Akshaya Tritiya day.
While one would expect Jewellry showrooms to lead the way in advertising it is actually no surprise that they have ceded ground to consumer electronics.
And since gold has come to be synonymous with Akshaya Tritiya day, dealers vie with one another with offers of gold on purchases of consumer electronics goods. Here Big Bazaar, a large departmental store chain, promised buyers of furniture worth Rs. 7,500 free gold upto 3 gms. Buyers of electronics worth Rs. 15,000 were promised upto 4 gms. gold free while buyers of BlackBerry ‘Smartphone’ could return home richer by a 1 gm. gold coin offered free with the purchase. The offers were valid for Akshaya Tritiya day only. The copy Aaj Hai Kuchh Naya Ghar Lane Ka Din left little to chance - Today is the day to bring something new home.
Other offers were discounted prices on purchase. Newly weds on the auspicious day are expected to take up on the offers. Many do.
Hindu marriages, particularly among Brahmins, continue until the beginning of Chatur Masa that usually coincides with the beginning of the monsoons in June-July. Advertisers have a little over a month in which to maximize their reach before the start of Chatur Masa. Purchase of gold in India largely revolves around marriage.
Masa is Sanskrit for month while Chaturthi is Sanskrit for four. Chatur is derived from Chaturthi. Chatur Masa extends for four months and is considered inauspicious for marriage. It is only a fortnight after Diwali, usually coinciding with October-November, when Chatur Masa comes to an end is it considered auspicious to schedule marriages again.
Across the whole of India, with the possible exception of regions that are not Hindu majority, gold is lapped up by buyers seeking to invest in it or taking delivery of jewellery custom-made for use in marriages of their children either scheduled on Akshaya Tritiya day or for at a later date.
Jewellery showrooms vie with each other via advertisements offering ‘exciting’ bargains on gold or simply advertise their designs.
Nakshatra Diamond Jewellery advertising in the Hindustan Times’ HT Café, called upon readers to “bring home divine luck this Akshaya Tritiya”, claiming their jewellery design to be based on “sacred geometry of the great constellation called the Saptarishi Mandalam”, before elaborating that the “auspicious seven stone diamond design evokes blessings of divine luck upon the wearer.”
Some jewellery showrooms will deck the outside of their shops with flowers to create a festive atmosphere.
Inside there will be little or no place to move around. Staff at Jewellry showrooms cannot expect to get a day off on Akshaya Tritiya.
I am inclined to believe that the retail trade in Gold on Akshaya Tritiya day will likely surpass the retail trade in Gold on any single day among the rest of the countries put together. I do not have figures to back my assertion up, merely sentiment.
It has to be seen to be believed. It is only natural for gold prices to nudge upward on Akshaya Tritiya. With the advent of summer, prospective buyers turn to the Panchanga to find out when is Akshaya Tritiya even as they save up to buy gold on the auspicious day.
Not everyone is enthused with the rise in gold prices that day. The Hindustan Times reported today on unhappy customers having to scale down their gold purchases yesterday to fit shrinking budgets resulting from rising gold prices on the auspicious day. The paper quoted an industry source saying the total sale of gold on the day was 25 tonnes (~ 25,000 kilograms). If the prices had held steady it would have been much higher.
The messaging is not restricted to newspaper advertisements. Banks use their ATM outlets to inform customers of the gold they can purchase from them.
Here ICICI bank is enticing customers using their ATM with “This Akshaya Tritiya, prosper with purity,” before promising them 24-carat that is “99.99% pure”. Banks retain the advertisement for several days after Akshaya Tritiya.
With the increase in gold prices, middle-class homes will quickly revaluate the worth of their gold jewelry in light of the prices breaching record levels and soon conversation in the drawing room will revolve around the lady of the house recounting of how the gold she was gifted at her marriage as Streedhan had cost her father only Rs. 250 a tola (12 gms.) forty years ago. “Since then it has doubled close to 75 times over.”
Soon more stories emerge as the family gathering turns nostalgic.
No home is immune to these comparisons. If weather is known to be a conversation starter with the British, gold prices achieves the same with Indians.
On my visit to Goa last October I noticed passersby pausing by a white board placed on the landing outside the Bank of India branch in Campal, opposite river Mandovi in Panjim, Goa. Curious I stepped up to the white board only to see a listing of gold prices for gold coins on sale at the bank. In the six months since then gold prices have appreciated by close to Rs. 1000 / 10 gms.
Akshaya Tritiya is also a busy day for Brass Bands in their shiny clothes and even shinier instruments as they lead the marriage procession to the tune of Bollywood songs. Marriage halls are booked months in advance while open spaces let out for marriage receptions are tidied up the day before.
On my way back home the previous day I passed glittering pandals being readied for marriage receptions.
But the pulse of the auspicious day is to be found at major Jewellry showrooms. I remember it from our tiptoe to a branch of Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri (TBZ) on Akshaya Tritiya last year for a lookaround. The place was buzzing and I whiled away my time between looking at designs and observing customers making decisions, agonizing over exquisite designs arrayed in glass cases many of which were specifically launched on Akshaya Tritiya. Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri (TBZ) have been in the business since 1864, building a reputation that few can hope to match.
24-carat gold was priced around Rs. 13,300 per 10 gms. that day. While Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri were not offering any discount on gold prices, they had however announced a 50-percent discount on the jewellry making-charge, the charge originally ranging between Rs. 150-600 per gm., depending on Jewellry type and design intricacy.
Customers seeking to exchange their old jewelery for new were sent up a narrow flight of stairs where a staff member was crouched under a makeshift shelter on the terrace, blowtorch in hand. The queue stretched long with customers awaiting their turn with their old jewelry. After melting the jewelry with the blowtorch he would hand the resulting gold puddle in the shape of a coin over to the owner who then carried it back to counter where it was evaluated for purity in a machine and assigned value for the quantity at the prevailing gold price for the day before adjusting the price payable against the price of jewelry bought at the showroom. The jewelry is melted before evaluating its worth to remove impurities if any.
There were many at the store that day seeking to exchange their old gold jewelry for new designs. Women outnumbered men.
Sales girls in matching sari and blouse patiently helped customers with their selections, answering queries while encouraging purchases. The variety on display was bewildering.
While I waited at the counter, a middle-aged couple had borne their old jewelry to the store, eventually evaluated at Rs. 100,000+ after melting it upstairs. They were purchasing pre-ordered gold idols of Lord Shiva and his family comprising of Nandi the bull, Shiva's wife Parvati, and their son Lord Ganapati, totaling Rs. 2,50,000+. After adjusting the amount payable against their old jewelry they bore their purchase home.
The staff at the payment counter was kept busy with customers waiting to make their payments, counting and recounting currency notes, occasionally holding notes up against the light to check their veracity. Pakistan has been in the spotlight over the years for pushing fake currency into India to undermine its economy.
Excited chatter filled up the large viewing hall on the ground floor. A separate section catered to diamonds.
Not all faces were ebullient or excited at making a purchase, some were weighed down. Others were expressionless.
Standing there, in their midst, I had no way of knowing every story. However I was certain of one thing. Not every story had willed its protagonist willingly to the showroom.