How to be free from the wrath of the priests
Vyomesh Chandra Jugaran
In Uttarakhand, the Chardham Devasthanam Board set up for the management of 51 related temples including Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri is becoming a thorn in the side of the state government. The anger of the priests and pilgrims associated with these temples is on the seventh heaven. By chanting mantras from their compassionate mouths, the fierce voices of death hunger and suicide are being heard. Worshipers have been wearing black bandages for months. In Gangotri and Yamunotri Dham, they have crossed the dam indefinitely for two months. Opposition groups called for a boycott of the election. In view of the situation, the new Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami has decided to set up a high-level committee on all these issues and has promised to keep the new system closed till his recommendation comes up. But resolving this dispute will not be easy.
Under the new law, the Devasthanam Board has been set up as a very powerful body. The Commissioner of Garhwal Division will be its Chief Executive Officer. The Chief Minister will be the Chairman of the Board and the Minister of Religion will be the Vice-Chairman. In addition to the Secretary-level officials of the State and Central Governments, the ex-officio members include three MPs and six MLAs from Sanatan Dharma, three industrialists as donors, one member of the Tehri dynasty and three representatives of hereditary priests. Went into the board.
The government is introducing the decision in line with its commitment to improve temple arrangements and provide better facilities to pilgrims. It argues that easy pilgrimage is an important responsibility of the government in a state with heterogeneous geographical conditions like Uttarakhand. But the words of the government were not accepted by the priestly community. He alleged that by forming the board, the government has directly attacked their ancestral pilgrimage rights and ancient traditions related to the Chardham Yatra. Pujari says the government did not even ask him before such an important decision was taken in 2018.
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Undoubtedly, the management of pilgrimage sites and the safety of pilgrims in Uttarakhand, which are in dire straits and difficult geographical conditions, is a serious matter, but does it require such government domination over temples? Despite government domination for the last 80 years in the form of ‘Shri Badrinath Temple Act-1939’. Under the Act, the then UP government had set up a committee to manage the temple. Over the years, the chairman of such a committee, namely the Badrinath-Kedarnath Temple Committee, has been a representative of the ruling party and an executive officer at the SDM level. It is certain that in compliance with the old law, the governments never compromised the worship of Rawal, the chief priest of Badrinath and the traditional pilgrimage rights of the local communities. But this old system fell into disrepair due to many flaws and disputes and concrete steps could never be taken to improve it. Therefore, at first glance, the establishment of Devasthanam Mandal seems to be a timely and appropriate decision.
The mistake was that the government took a unilateral decision not to trust the religious and cultural heirs of these temples, namely the centuries-old pilgrims and priests. In addition, about three dozen other temples associated with these temples also claimed. In such a situation, it is natural for a large class, including the priests, to be angry. Now even the government’s ‘curse-liberation’ does not seem easy. The Devasthanam Board is also one of the reasons behind the change of three Chief Ministers in a very short period of time in the state. This is evidenced by the fact that the newly appointed Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami convened an important meeting of the Devasthanam Mandal immediately after taking office. Some decisions were also taken at the meeting to reduce the anger of the priests. For example, in Char Dham, worship will not be broadcast live from the sanctum sanctorum. Since the time of former Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, it has been rumored that the state government will conduct regular poojas in the sanctum sanctorum as an alternative to the journey halted due to the Kovid epidemic, so that devotees from all over the country can visit the comfort of their homes. The priests strongly objected to any such broadcast. The meeting also decided to set up a Veda Study Center at Joshimath and to appoint a consultant as per the master plan to ensure smooth functioning of worship and travel at Kedarnath Dham. The budget of Devasthanam Mandal for the current financial year 2021-22 was also approved. It is clear from this decision that the government is not ready to reverse this decision.
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Former Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat had assured the saints and pilgrims at Haridwar that the government would reconsider the decision of the Devasthanam Board. Opponents were a little cold after this assurance, but after the change of leadership, the two sides once again stood face to face.
Locals have a big role in the tradition of pilgrimage in Uttarakhand. The traditional rights of the people are attached to it. The Rawal tradition was started in 1634 by the king of Garhwal by appointing a Nambudiri Brahmin from Kerala, the birthplace of Adi Shankara, as the chief priest of Badrinath. Rawal had every right to touch and worship the idol. Later, the locals, especially Dimris and Nautiyal, were given the right to worship as Rawal’s assistants. In addition, the local community has inherited the right to take up the business. But the priestly community is apprehensive about the new Devasthanam Mandal. It is the responsibility of the government to address these concerns. If a new arrangement is to be made keeping in view the changing nature of the pilgrimage sites, it will have to ensure that it not only adapts the centuries-old orthodox traditions, but also meets the criteria of ‘Parvat’.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are those of the author.
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