Some are loving it; some others are calling it an abomination. The Kashi Vishwanath Temple and the area surrounding it are being inaugurated with much fanfare today, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reached Varanasi and is performing puja at the Kaal Bhairav Temple. Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath is adorning the occasion, of course, but what is spiritually significant is that the Prime Minister’s Office invited gurus of several Hindu sampradayas (sub-sects) and all of them accepted the invitation, even as a sizable section of the community is lamenting the ‘destruction’ of many lesser murtis in the arena in the government attempt to spruce up the premises.
Prime Minister Modi and Chief Minister Yogi took a double-decker boat from the Khirkiya Ghat to the Lalita Ghat to reach the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
On social media, several traditionalists have been questioning the renovation activities, with the critiques attaining a crescendo since the time the Akshayavat fell allegedly due to the callousness of the local municipality that rammed the wall that supported it, ignoring the warnings by the priest and locals that the religiously significant tree would collapse if the wall is demolished.
Traditionalists say, on the one hand, that the Modi government does not appreciate the difference between tourism and pilgrimage and that the new look was never a want of devotees of Shiva. On the other hand, the presence of chiefs of various mutts at the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor inauguration is playing out as an endorsement of the state project by the spiritually learned lot.
“Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Ramdev Baba, Swami Ramabhadracharya, Swami Avadeshananada Giri, Sri Pundarika Goswami ji (direct lineage holder of Gaudiya Vaishnavism), top seers of Tamil Saiva adheenams, Ligayat Saiva heads, Veerasaivas, blessings of Vaishnava Madhva Sampradaya Seers, etc all gathered for the Kashi corridor opening,” Tantra exponent Rajarshi Nandy wrote on his Facebook wall.
“None of them are ordinary folks but the heads of very powerful and ancient sampradayas of Hindu dharma. Months ago during a conversation with a priest of Viswanatha temple and not an ordinary priest at that, it felt that the support for the project was very strong from the majority of the traditional quarters. To believe somehow that BJP forced all these people to join in, is absurd speculation,” Nandy wrote.
Former BBC Hindi journalist Vijay Rana, who has famously made the documentary on Varanasi, The Spirit of Banaras, is but impressed.
“The glory of Kashi Vishwanath restored,” Rana wrote on Facebook.
“After Aurangazeb’s destruction of Vishwanath Temple in 1669, Rani Ahilyabai Holkar rebuilt it in 1780 in a truncated space. Now after 241 years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has restored the full glory of Baba Vishwanath,” the veteran journalist said.
Hindutva activist and BJP supporter Garima Tiwari wrote, “Shiva belongs to all ― to the gods as much as to the ganas. Let people say what they want to (about the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor project); we will not resist anyone [translated from Hindi].”
Since yesterday, comparisons of the inauguration of the overhauled Kashi Vishwanath Temple to Daksha Yajna have been doing the rounds on social media too. In the Puranas, the incident involves the father of Sati organising a grand yajna where he deliberately did not invite Shiva to heap insult on Him. Sati ignored Shiva’s advice to not visit her father uninvited but had to commit self-immolation on being humiliated. This infuriated Shiva whose Virbhadra form beheaded Daksha. Traditionalists are saying the Modi government is organising a similar event, trouncing upon the heritage of Shiva.
People have also questioned the placement of an idol of Bharat Mata, a “political goddess” that enjoys no scriptural backing, at the premises of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
Varanasi happens to be the Lok Sabha constituency of Prime Minister Modi. The temple city’s Rs 339 crore project, the foundation of which was laid by Modi on 8 March 2019, has been completed in less than three years as planned, despite the Covid-19 pandemic. The corridor project was conceptualised to create an easily accessible pathway for the pilgrims, the government claims, who had to meander through congested streets to take a dip in the Ganga and offer water from the holy river at the temple.
With the Uttar Pradesh assembly election approaching, different political parties have sought credit for the recent development projects in the state such as the Purvanchal Expressway, which was inaugurated last month. For the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor as well, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav has been claiming that the project was approved during his term and he has documents to prove it. Clearly, it’s not merely about religion; politics is an inalienable part of the event, as traditionalists are also complaining that the otherwise pro-Hindu government neglected the concerns of Shiva worshippers because it was racing against a deadline to impress voters before the state election.
The SP chief later tweeted, “The chronology of Kashi Vishwanath Corridor: Crores (of rupees) were allocated in the Samajwadi Party regime. The SP government started the acquisition of the buildings for the purpose of the Corridor. An honorarium was fixed for the temple staff.”
He said, “The ‘paidaljeevi‘ (meaning “pedestrians”, a reference to the derogatory “andolanjeevi” epithet the prime minister had thrown as activists who opposed the agriculture reform laws that he finally dumped under unknown pressure) should tell that why the cleanliness drive of the Varuna river undertaken by the SP government was stopped, and what happened to the Metro (rail)?”
Some questionable Hindus have jumped on the bandwagon too. Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra, whose grandfather Feroze Gandhi was a Parsi and who is married to a Christian, tagged Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Twitter, stating, “Sir, your government’s administration buried hundreds of live cows in Banda. In your government, cows are victims of cruelty and inhumanity in gaushalas.”
Addressing Prime Minister Modi, Gandhi-Vadra said, “You are in UP today. Will you demand accountability from the UP government on the plight of gaushalas?”
The criticisms notwithstanding, the people of Varanasi gave a warm welcome to Prime Minister Modi by showering flower petals on his car and chanting slogans of “Modi, Modi”. The prime minister stepped out on the streets to greet the people of Varanasi, his Lok Sabha constituency. He was seen waving to his supporters gathered around him and those watching from rooftops.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, who succeeded two short-tenured chief ministers ― Trivendra Singh Rawat and Tirath Singh Rawat ― of their state who had ignored Hindu concerns infamously in the Char Dham Project and even presided over segera cases of love jihad, said, “A grand Kashi will be seen after crores of years now. Ayodhya is progressing with Ram Temple. Every cultural and heritage project of India is moving forward rapidly under Prime Minister Modi’s guidance.”
Sirf News had recently organised a debate between the endorsers of the government project and its critics, both rich in facts and figures. Watch: