Gold, chemical symbol Au and atomic number 79, is a dense and malleable lustrous metal. It is highly ductile and does not rust in air or water making it useful in dentistry and electronics.
Gold is edible. It can be beaten into super thin often translucent sheets - a single gram can be beaten into a sheet of one square meter, or an ounce into 300 square feet. Gold beaten into super thin paper covers certain Indian sweets. But unless you are in need of a lot of dental work or require a golden Pharonic sarcophagus for your trip to the next life, the actual use of gold is limited.
Gold has qualities desirable in money - it is rare, durable, divisible, fungible, easy to identify, easily transported and possesses a high value to weight ratio.
Gold and other precious metals, particularly silver, formed the basis of all money for substantially all of recent human economic history. Only since the early 1970s has pure paper money been the monetary lingua franca of the world.
For some, gold coinage remains the only real money, universally recognised and acceptable as money and exchangeable for goods or services and a true store of value.
Gold's hold on humans is complex. Nowhere is this more evident than in India where gold is deeply embedded in the culture.
All major events in life require the giving of gold. A child's baptism or eating of its first solid food, usually rice, requires offerings of gold.
Marriage traditions require a dowry of gold treasure - heavy necklaces, ornate bangles, dangling earrings, jewel-encrusted rings, delicate headpieces and saris woven with gold thread.
Beyond its cultural significance, for Indians gold is the ultimate store of wealth that can be pawned or used as security to raise money quickly. For Indian women, gold may also be the only real property of their own and hope of financial security – their only "nest egg".
Dowry related violence and abuse is not uncommon.
For less fortunate families, the inability to provide an adequate gold dowry restricts the choice of husband in a society where the majority of marriages are arranged by parents. In many cases, the requirements of the gold dowry is beyond the means of parents condemning daughters to an unmarried life or forcing the parents to take on debt from usurious moneylenders to avoid the shame of an unmarried daughter.
Female infanticide and selective abortion is also common to save families from the burden of a daughter.
Image: Sakshi Dhoni seen wearing necklaces during her wedding to Indian cricket captain MS Dhoni in 2010.