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Secret Swiss patron donates Rs 2cr to TNadu temple

Secret Swiss patron donates Rs 2cr to TNadu temple

Author: Jayaraj Sivan
Publication: The Times of India
Date: June 6, 2009
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Secret-Swiss-patron-donates-Rs-2cr-to-TNadu-temple/articleshow/4622634.cms

She's the Rameswaram temple's biggest - and most mysterious - benefactor. Over the last three years, Swiss national Elizabeth Ziegler has been donating about Rs 4 lakh every year to the Ramanathaswamy temple, and most recently sent Rs 2.08 crore, but none of the temple officials has ever seen her.

"I presume Elizabeth has been visiting the temple frequently and performing pujas for the two presiding deities, Lord Ramanathaswamy and Goddess Parvathavardhini, but I have never seen her,'' says Bhanumathi Nachiar, chairperson of the board of trustees of the temple. Bhanumathi is the one who first established contact with Elizabeth in 2006, but they correspond only by fax.

Soon after Bhanumathi took charge as chairperson of the board in 2006, she came across a letter in the files from Elizabeth, dated October 12, 2004, in which she had said she wanted to make a donation to the temple. "Nobody had replied to that letter till then and, hence, Elizabeth, too, had left it at that,'' she says. Bhanumathi faxed a detailed reply to Elizabeth thanking her for the offer and giving details of a bank account to which the money should be sent. "Elizabeth was prompt in her response. She sent Rs 4 lakh immediately. That was in 2006. Since then, she has been sending money every year,'' says Bhanumathi. Their unseen patron has been sending them between Rs 4 lakh and Rs 5 lakh every year. All they know about her is that she is an advocate in Geneva.

A few months ago, Elizabeth sent them another fax saying she wanted to donate a huge amount to the temple. "We replied promptly, and she sent the money,'' says Bhanumathi.

What they didn't expect was Rs 2.08 crore, which they received on February 19. Elizabeth's instructions about how the money was to be used are also very clear: Apart from performing daily pujas, the money should be used for the Maha Sivarathri and `Rudra puja' (both once a year) and feeding of a minimum of 101 poor people on December 11, every year. She has, however, not specified the significance the date has in her life.

When TOI contacted the elusive Elizabeth twice over the telephone, she said, "I have nothing to say about it. I don't want to discuss this matter. But I want to help you... bye bye.''

Elizabeth's most recent donation of Rs 2.08 crore has been deposited with Tamil Nadu Power Finance Corporation, a state government enterprise. The interest that accrues will be used for the purposes specified by Elizabeth, says Bhanumathi.

The Ramanathaswamy temple has had several high net worth devotees in the past, such as the Tatas and Birlas, who constructed cottages for the temple in the 1950s, says Bhanumathi, whose great-grandfathers - the Sethupathis - constructed the temple betweem the 12th century and 16th century when they were the rulers of Ramanathapuram region.

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