The morning after Hanuman Jayanti, Kashi woke up to a horror of sorts. The old Akshayvat, which is believed to have stood there since the Treta Yuga, fell down. While there are people who are alleging it was a deliberate act of the administration, there are others who are attributing the incident to carelessness by the government contractor and labourers.
The ancient Akshayvat Hanuman Mandir and Shiv Sabha Mandir come within the purview of the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor, a dream project of sort for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The mahant family maintaining the temple had previously requested the Kashi Vishwanath Temple administration and PSP Projects (the construction company that has the contract of building the corridor) to take care of the temple and the surrounding areas while carrying out their beautification work. They had also got a written assurance from both that adequate care would be taken.
However, this morning, the mahant family woke up to the horror of the sight of the uprooted ancient tree. (Ref: Image 1)
The priests’ family blame the administration for the shoddy execution of the beautification project while there are other local stakeholders who accuse the government of deliberate destruction of heritage.
As per these locals, the Akshayvat was old and had grown in a haphazard way, taking support of the nearby walls. It is said that the walls were razed and the tree fell under its own weight. “So the construction company should have known better,” a local said.
They said since 31 March, they had been suspicious that the tree might be taken out “by deceit” by the construction company (Ref: Image 2)
Cultural significance of Akshayvat
There are three Akshayvat trees in India: one in Prayagraj, this one in Kashi that is no more and the third in Gaya. In all three places, Swami Hanumanji is manifest in three different forms. While in Prayagraj he is lying down for rest, he is in a sitting posture in Gaya. In Kashi, he was — even the vigraha is khandit (damaged) — in a standing posture. (Ref: Image 3)
The tree premises used to be a venue for many rituals from mundan (tonsure) to pindadan (Hindu ritual to pay respect to departed elders).
Further, a “Sthalavriksha” has a spiritual significance in every kshetra. It is a storehouse that also stands witness to the spiritual history of the sthala, explained the priests.
Akshayavat or Akshay Vat (“the indestructible banyan tree”) is a sacred fig tree mentioned in Hindu mythology. According to a legend, once Sage Markandeya asked Lord Narayana to show him a specimen of the divine power. Narayana flooded the entire world for a moment, during which only the Akshayavat could be seen above the water level. Even the Bodhi Tree is said to be a manifestation of Akshayvat at Prayagraj.
The previous incident of stopping the Saptarishi Aarti in Kashi Vishwanath Mandir and then today’s incident have put a question mark on temple administration by the government, which has been a contentious issue for years. Hindus in the know of how things, especially spiritual, get messed up under state control question the government’s ability and intention to manage such culturally and spiritually rich places.
A devotee who is regular at the shrine said, “At a time when Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev is leading a movement in Tamil Nadu to free all temples in the state and when former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat was alleged to have ridden roughshod over the Hindu populace in the state, which cost him his job, the BJP governments at the centre and the state of Uttar Pradesh can ill-afford the allegation that they treat Hindu religious places merely as tourist spots and income generating avenues.”
“They have no spiritual or religious investment in maintaining the ritual sanctity and cultural aesthetics of the place,” another devotee who visits the shrine daily sighed and added.