Congress attempts to takeover Kamakhya Temple – Jayant Chowdhury

Kamakhya Temple, Nilachal Hills, Assam

Journalist“This is a shameless attempt by the Tarun Gogoi government to run the temple through its chosen agents. The government has no business to run a temple or any place of worship, be it a mosque, church, gurdwara or synagogue. The Kamakhya Temple is being run perfectly well and the Tarun Gogoi government was trying to subvert last year’s Supreme Court verdict restoring the task of running the temple to the Dolois, as has been the age-old practice. We will strongly oppose any attempt by this government to resuscitate the bill,” said BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma. – Jayant Chowdhury

Tarun GogoiAn attempt by the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government in Assam to take over the management of the ancient Kamakhya temple has been nixed, albeit temporarily.

The state government had introduced a bill (the Assam Sri Sri Maa Kamakhya Devalaya Management Bill, 2015) in the state assembly on Monday that would have led to the creation of a board, headed by a serving or retired IAS officer and comprising members nominated by the government, representatives from the temple management, and the district administration as well as the state revenue and finance departments, to look after the management and development of the temple.

After Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) members objected to the bill, the government withdrew it temporarily.

But to fully understand the sinister motive behind the Congress government’s attempt to take over the Kamakhya Temple, it is important to delve a bit into its history. The management and administration of the Kamakhya Temple, one of the most powerful Shakti peeths and an important religious site for Hindus, has been under two ‘Dolois’ who are elected by the ‘Bardeuris’ or priests of the principal Kamakhya Temple, since the time of the Ahom kings.

These Bardeuris are descendants of the famous Kanyakubja Brahmins of Kannauj and were brought over to run the Kamakhya temple by Maharaja Dharmapala of the Pal dynasty in mid-11th century. There are four clans of Bardeuris and each adult male of the four clans (there are around 450 of them) can stand for election to the post of the two Dolois .

The person getting the highest number of votes becomes the ‘Dangor Doloi’ and the one getting the second-highest votes become the ‘Xoru Doloi’ (‘Dangor’ means ‘elder’ in Assamese, and ‘Xoru’ is ‘younger’). The two Dolois have five-year tenures.

In 1992, Jnananda Prasad Sarma and Paran Chandra Sarma were elected as the ‘Dangor’ and ‘Xoru’ Dolois respectively. But when their terms were about to end in 1997, they constituted the Kamakhya Debutter Board to run the temple. Over time, this Board came to be packed with priests and pandas loyal to the Congress, which has been in power for most of the time in Assam since Independence.

The Kamakhya Bardeuri Samaj filed a case against the Debutter Board at the Gauhati High Court in 1998 and the High Court, in November 2011, ruled that the Board had no locus standi and the affairs of the temple should be handed over to the Bardeuris. But the Board challenged this verdict in the Supreme Court which, on July 7, 2015 upheld the High Court verdict. This was a big blow to the Congress government in Assam, which could no longer remote-control the affairs of the temple through the Debutter Board that was packed with its loyalists and lackeys.

Kamakhya DeviBut the state government did not honour a vital part of the SC order. “The Supreme Court had asked the district authorities to seize the premises, accounts and properties of the Kamakhya Devalaya from the Debutter Board and hand them over to the Bardeuri Samaj. But even six months after that order, we haven’t got the accounts of the temple and most of the properties. So we filed a contempt petition in the Supreme Court last month,” said Bhaskar Sarma, the secretary of the Kamakhya Bardeuri Samaj.

The bill brought by the Tarun Gogoi government is, thus, a sinister attempt to subvert the Supreme Court order and take over the management of the temple. On getting to know of the state government’s plans to introduce the bill, members of the Bardeuri Samaj launched an indefinite hunger strike from January 30.

The state’s move attracted criticism and widespread condemnation from intellectuals and cultural personas of the state as well as the powerful All Assam Students’ Union and the opposition BJP and the AGP. When the bill was tabled, Opposition members questioned the motive behind the bill, especially since the Kamahya Temple was being run perfectly well by the two Dolois and the Bardeuri Samaj. They also said the age-old traditions of the historic shrine should not be interfered with, and pointed out that the Bardeuri Samaj had not been consulted. Facing flak within and outside the Assembly, the government kept the bill in abeyance. However, it has not dropped the bill and chances are that it would try again to introduce and pass the bill.

The Opposition, while questioning the Congress government’s motives, has also pointed out that governments have no business managing the affairs of religious places. “This is a shameless attempt by the Tarun Gogoi government to run the temple through its chosen agents. The government has no business to run a temple or any place of worship, be it a mosque, church, gurdwara or synagogue. The Kamakhya Temple is being run perfectly well and the Tarun Gogoi government was trying to subvert last year’s Supreme Court verdict restoring the task of running the temple to the Dolois, as has been the age-old practice. We will strongly oppose any attempt by this government to resuscitate the bill,” said BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma.

AGP leaders also spoke in the same vein and wondered why the Tarun Gogoi government is targeting the Kamakhya Temple. “In that case, the government should take over the management of all mosques and churches in the state. Can Tarun Gogoi dare do that?” wondered a senior AGP leader.

In Assam, a wide cross-section of the citizenry are dismayed by the Congress government’s attempts to interfere in the management of a Hindu place of worship and are asking if Tarun Gogoi can even think of taking over the management of any mosque or church in the state. – Swarajya, 4 February 2016

» Jayant Chowdhury is a commentator on politics and society in Bengal and eastern, including north-eastern, India.

Sonia Gandhi & Tarun Gogoi

TTD’s hundi income to cross Rs 1,000 crore in 2016-17 – G. P. Shukla

Venkateshwara Temple Tirumala

Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams“For the first time in the history of the TTD, the income derived from the temple hundi by way of offerings is put at Rs. 1,010 crore, surpassing the one thousand crore mark.” – G. P. Shukla

The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) on Saturday has approved its annual budget for the year 2016-17 with an estimated revenue of Rs. 2,678.07 crores.

For the first time in the history of the TTD, the income derived from the temple hundi by way of offerings is put at Rs. 1,010 crore, surpassing the one thousand crore mark.

The second major source of income is interest on investments with the estimates being pegged at Rs. 778.93 crores.

The TTD also expects an income of Rs. 209 crores by way of the sale of Rs. 300 special entry darshan tickets and a whopping Rs. 175 crores by way of sale of prasadams, Rs. 150 crores by sale of human hair followed by Rs. 114.5 crores by way of sale of choultry receipts and Rs. 55 crores through the sale of arjithas seva tickets.

Other receipts include Rs. 37.39 crores by way of loans and advances to the employees, EMD, security deposits etc., in addition to Rs. 15 crores from the sale of gold dollars, besides a staggering income of Rs. 133.25 crores by way of lease, rents from hotels and shops, kalyanakatta, engineering, toll gate and other capital receipts.

Tirumala Tirupati HundiThe payments side shows a bulk outgo of Rs. 757.06 towards corpus and other investments as against Rs. 629.83 crore in the last year. The next major outflow is Rs. 500 crore towards salaries and wages followed by Rs. 320 crore towards the procurement of materials.

Other major expenses include grants and commissions (Rs. 165 crore), fixed assets, engineering works (Rs. 160 crore), out sourcing expenses (Rs.199.25 crore), pension trust and gratuity payments (Rs. 120 crore), pension fund contributions (Rs. 75 crore), electrical charges (Rs. 55 crore), repairs and maintenance (Rs.80.20 crore), loans sand advances to employees, EMD, security deposits (Rs. 41.50 crore), other benefits like reimbursement of fees, books, Brahmotsavam bahumanam (Rs. 23 crore), besides Rs. 129.96 crore towards other capital and miscellaneous expenses. – The Hindu, 30 January 2016

Tirumala with Sri Venkateshwara Temple

Sabarimala: The debate between modernity and age-old practices – George Augustine

George Augustine“The two recent issues, Sabarimala and Jallikattu, … calls for a background check, because we need to exercise discrimination when we approach a matter of faith, whereas reason is enough to resolve all other matters. Especially so, because Hindu reforms invariably seem to attract Constitutional activists from every nook and corner to demand equal rights for all and sundry, including those who have nothing to do with the event or tradition, purely motivated by political considerations. … We should exercise caution and restraint while dealing with faith, at least for now.” – George Augustine

Shah Bano BegumWhen religious reforms become the responsibility of the legislature and the judiciary in India it always ends up maintaining the status quo, without any redressal of the aggrieved party, whoever may that party be. Constitutional rights rarely carry force in India, particularly when they come to face religious injunctions and customs. The Shah Bano case and the subsequent enactment of a new law by the Rajiv Gandhi government had clearly demonstrated nearly three decades ago that the Constitutional rights of Muslim women to enjoy equality in marriage are ultimately subservient to Muslim personal law, no matter what the judiciary thinks. The same applies to the Christian inheritance law which discriminates against Christian women despite the Mary Roy case. In this regard, their Indian compatriots, the Hindu women are better off in terms of personal law.

Supreme Court of IndiaLegality of reform

However, all too often, Hindu religious customs and traditions are often raked up to point out all sorts of injustices done to women as well as animals. Let us say, the general Indian media is more concerned and preoccupied with Hindu religious and social practices than with Muslim or Christian practices. Muslim women are generally not allowed into mosques and Christian women can never aspire to become Catholic priests. But these things rarely come to court or are discussed. Thus, there is a long journey ahead for all of us in India to arrive at full justice, whether we are Hindus or Muslims or Christians.

India has come a long way from independence and our women are slowly getting footholds in the social and political landscape and they are getting assertive to demand equal opportunities and consideration in the religious sphere as well. It is a just demand and it is the obligation of all people in charge to do whatever there is to do to realise their aspirations as soon as possible. There is nothing in the way, but the political will and determination on the part of the current government to level the ground between men and women regardless of their religions, for which the Uniform Civil Code is a prerequisite. Under the current political dispensation there is no indication of any positive light, but we can still go on hoping towards a just and fair India sooner than later.

Constitution of IndiaFaith versus democracy

The two recent issues, Sabarimala and Jallikattu,  taken up by our Supreme Court calls for a background check, because we need to exercise discrimination when we approach a matter of faith, whereas reason is enough to resolve all other matters. Especially so, because Hindu reforms invariably seem to attract Constitutional activists from every nook and corner to demand equal rights for all and sundry, including those who have nothing to do with the event or tradition, purely motivated by political considerations. It is a good trend that we have so many people cheerleading our good Constitution whatever may be their motive, but we should exercise caution and restraint while dealing with faith, at least for now.

Faith is an untouchable in our country. No one can question it, no matter what kind of faith. However, in the past, many Hindu ‘traditions’ like sati, child marriage, devadasi systems have been put to sleep through legislation. Some of them caused harmful side effects and adverse consequences for many involved, but at least some of them were carried out in good faith and the communities have benefitted too to a certain extent. So, by precedent, Hindu traditions are open, dynamic and flexible to change unlike the Abrahamic traditions of Islam and Christianity, which are more ideologies than religions and have remained rigid and ossified in their fundamentals since their inception in the stone-age period of civilisation.

Swami AyyappanSabarimala

Sabarimala is one of the oldest shrines in Kerala with a unique tradition. There are many such singular temples in Kerala (Chakkulathu Kavu and Attukal Bhagavathi Temple) and each of them keeps its uniqueness by adhering to the peculiar customs and traditions followed for at least more than a millennium. Sabarimala temple is one of the five Sastha temples in Kerala, each of the five housing the deity in a certain stage of human life: Kulaththupuzha Temple housing an infant Sastha, Aryankavu housing an adolescent, and at Achankovil as the householder (grihasthashrami) with his wives Poorna and Pushkala and at Erumeli as Dharma Sastha.

Sastha is consecrated at Sabarimala as “naishtika brahmachari” (persistent ascetic) in a state of samadhi, and is believed to have been established by the legendary Parasurama. To agnostics, this might appear to be obsolete and irrelevant, but remember, this is the realm of belief and faith. A murthi inside the sreekovil in a particular temple is consecrated according to Tantric principles, which is believed to endow certain powers to the murthi. This particular power is distinct in each consecration according to the Tantric principle used and remains with the murthi, provided that certain conditions are met by the devotees and those responsible for the temple. One of those conditions at Sabarimala is the absence of fertile women in the sannidhanam, whose presence can (in simple terms) affect the tantric energy of the murthi, making it powerless.

From time immemorial, women of child-bearing age never ventured into the thick Sabari forest to disturb the meditation of Sastha due to the prevailing belief and as a mark of respect for what Sastha was purportedly doing. It was not an easy journey then, and not very easy now even with two well-lit concrete paths. However devotees were accompanied by girls before they attained puberty and elderly women in the family on their annual pilgrimage to the shrine. Following the same tradition, all pilgrims had to undergo ascetic renunciation for 41 days before they ventured up the mountain, so that they were on an energy level conducive to Lord Sastha. This is the belief that became the basis for the control of entry of fertile women by the temple administration body, Travancore Devaswom in 1969 and later upheld by the Kerala High Court in 1991. The entry control by the administration became stringent after a dance scene was shot in the sannidhanam for a Tamil movie (Nambinar Keduvathillai) in 1986, when several actresses of fertile age were present. As a consequence, the actresses, director K. Sankar and the temple officials who granted permission were taken to court and penalised.

By the entry of fertile women into the sannidhaanam, the consecrated murthi loses its validity, according to Tantrics and believers who have been following the tradition. This kind of esoteric information is absent in the public sphere for obvious reasons, and one cannot really blame the shrill, irate women who appear on telly calling for everybody’s blood, sometimes asking foolishly for evidence of Ayyappa’s dislike for ‘menstruating’ women. People concerned (temple administration body) should pacify these women and educate them in matters of faith, if that is really what they want. If a fertile woman is a believer, she certainly ought to believe in the consecration philosophy and abide by it and make it a point to go there after menopause. If she is not a believer, why go there in the first place? There are many hilly resorts for tourists in Kerala.

Another aspect many young and ignorant women bring up is the ban on women in temples during their menstruation period. Actually there is no official ban, but only an etiquette that is as old as temple worship. Nobody is there to check whether anybody is menstruating. If it is found out later by evidence, some ritual has to be performed to recreate the pure energy. None of the temple-going women I know would ever dream of visiting a temple during their menstruation period, because they know that it is not the appropriate thing to do for reasons other than sexism. But ignorance continues to make the most noise.

ThookamNon-tantric ritual arts and sport that come under ban

Other than the issues of modernity and age-old temples, there are folk rituals that have been affected by bans. By folk rituals, I mean non-Brahmanical ritualistic arts and sport, particularly those that have some sort of violence and pain involved, and that have been banished by modern sensibilities for better or for worse, but mostly for the worst.

An instance is a ritual called ‘Elavoor thookam performed at the Elavoor Puthenkavu Bhagavathy Temple, about 40 kilometres north of Cochin, which came under ban for the first time in 1987, revived on and off and later banned again in 2004. The ritual involves the suspension of a devotee on a 32-foot cantilever arm mounted on a carriage that circumambulates the temple thrice. The suspension is implemented by two iron hooks pierced through the back skin of the devotee and is performed after several days of renunciation by the protagonist and pre-treatment of the skin with specially prepared oil for 21 days. You may see it here.

The concerned devotees who have undertaken the thookam proclaim there is no pain involved and reportedly there are persons who have done this multiple times and still living and evidently without any ill effect. However the opponents of the thookam who wanted the ban and secured it say there have been accidents in the past, but none mention any accidental death. In the run up to the second ban in 2004, when the then temple advisory committee wanted to revive the ritual, the Tantrics responsible for the temple were consulted and they proclaimed the ritual was not tantric, hence not scriptural and not indispensable for the functions of the temple. Many Hindu organisations opposed the ritual and prominent among the personalities who led the movement for the ban were Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha of Narayanashrama Tapovanam in Kerala and Kummanam Rajasekharan, the present President of the BJP in Kerala.

After the ban by the district collector, the pro-thookam agitators were disappointed but equally adamant in reviving their ritual, which they say is several centuries old. One of the most important reasons the opposing Hindu group cited was that the ritual was a “vestige of human sacrifice” and that the present ritual was “barbaric”. To be honest, the ritual is a version of the “full body suspension” currently practised by “body artists” in Europe and the USA. I personally know a German artist who told me the suspension is entirely painless, and the element of risk is carried by the person who pierces the hook, which makes all the difference. Fatalities can be entirely ruled out due to the medical assistance at hand. There are more dangerous sporting events like motor racing or the extreme sports, where mistakes are too expensive.

BullsThe strongest argument I’ve heard in favour of the jallikattu is the variety of native cattle breeds nurtured and conserved by this one single annual event. No doubt it was also a major sporting event in ancient India and also significant in terms of social anthropology, and it is not anything to be scorned or insulted, but respected. The worst feature of jallikattu is the toll of deaths (reportedly 200 in the last two decades) and injuries sustained by people as well as by the animals. We can forget the death toll of humans, because they decide for themselves unlike the poor bulls, which are fed and nurtured by their rich owners but treated cruelly to make them agitated and ferocious for the festival. Jallikattu is likely to vanish just like Elavoor thookam unless a congenial solution is found among the organisers. In a combative atmosphere, where Hindus are divided, politics will creep in and vested interests will make sure that priceless cultural assets are destroyed.

The best way out of such precarious situations is the reformation of the sport or ritual, putting in place new rules that address the safety of the animals first. People who protest against other people, who expose themselves to risk in whatever name, should mind their own business. Because, they presume to be superior and know more about what other people want. This kind of condescension has been made into an art form by present-day pseudo-liberals and academics that have had their brains washed and ironed by obsolete ideologies and given free access to TV talk time. A lot more progress would be achieved if these debates were made meaningful by integrating humane values and by excluding politically biased people who see the world only in terms of ideology, bereft of common sense and culture. – MyIndMakers, 22 January 2016

» George Augustine has a master’s degree in English language and literature and is an independent writing and editing professional who works in Kerala and Germany. He has written numerous articles on faith and religion on internet forums and blogs. 

Bleeding Campaign

See also

Practices of Hindu religion are polylithic in character – Unnikrishna Panicker

Srikovil at Sabarimala

Unnikrishna Panicker“It would be unfair to claim that what is practised in Sabarimala is misogynistic. The practice that exists in Sabarimala is not a practice that is followed by all temples. Neither is it a practice to be followed by women of all ages. The practices that exist are age-old. There is a certain continuity in these practices which should be respected, even if you don’t believe them. This continuity is acknowledged by all historians who discuss Indian history and is the cornerstone of Indian culture.” – Parappanangadi Unnikrishna Panicker

Swami AyyappanIs the demand for women’s entry into Sabarimala Temple motivated by bhakti? Or is it motivated by the political beliefs of a few? Those who demand entry do so because they think that denying women entry is unfair and discriminatory. A majority of women Ayyappa devotees would accept the rituals and traditions of the temple as they are and thus, would not want to visit the temple. Thus, those women who seek entry do not need it, and the majority of those for whom it is sought do not want it. Besides, it is patronising to suggest how someone should practise their belief, which traditions one should follow and which temple to enter.

The beliefs and practices of Hindu religion are polylithic in nature. On the one side, menstruating women are banned from entering a temple like Sabarimala. On the other side, there are temples like Chengannur Mahadeva Temple where Goddess Parvathy’s menstruation is revered and worshipped. Menstruation is mentioned with reverence in Adi Sankaracharya’s Tripura Sundari Stotram:

Smaretpratamapushpineerudhirabinduneelaambaraam!,

says the sage. Similar passages can be seen in Soundarya Lahari too.

Temples in Kerala follow the practice called Tantra when it comes to rituals. Kerala has produced the most ancient works in Tantra like Prayogamañjari and Kriyaasaaram that prescribe the ritualistic practices to be followed in a temple. Tantra Samuchayam, one of the most authoritative scriptures among these, says:

Kshetremritirjjananamankanamandapaadou,
mootraasrugaadipathanampathithaadivesha […]
Ethaanitantrakathithaaninimithakaani,
Jneyaani guru laghavabhedavanthi.

Death or birth (of humans or animals), faeces, entry of animals and entry of someone who is unclean are some of the occasions that would make a temple impure. Each temple has its own set of rules and rituals.

Some of them control entry, some of them open up entry. For example, at daytime, women cannot enter the Rajarajeswara Temple of Taliparamba, one of the ancient temples in North Kerala. Similarly, once in a year, the Kodungallur Bhagavathy Temple opens up for everyone and the Goddess is believed to appear as a commoner in a ritual called Kaavutheendal.

It would be unfair to claim that what is practised in Sabarimala is misogynistic. The practice that exists in Sabarimala is not a practice that is followed by all temples. Neither is it a practice to be followed by women of all ages. The practices that exist are age-old. There is a certain continuity in these practices Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varmawhich should be respected, even if you don’t believe them. This continuity is acknowledged by all historians who discuss Indian history and is the cornerstone of Indian culture.

The temple authorities in Kerala have historically been progressive and reformists in their approach. The revolutionary temple entry proclamation was announced by the King of Travancore 90 years ago, at a time when caste system was thought to be deep-rooted and unalterable.

However, this stand cannot be taken in all rituals and practices. There are also rituals and traditions where the continuity cannot be broken. That might seem illogical to some. But religion and spirituality are sometimes above logic and ordinary human understanding. – The New Indian Express, 22 January 2016

» Unnikrishna Panicker of Parappanangadi in Kerala is Jayalalithaa’s most trusted astrologer.

Chengannur Mahadeva Temple

Ram temple work to start this year-end: Dr Swamy – PTI

Ram Temple on the Babri Masjid site after the demolition.

Subramanian Swamy“Swamy claimed that efforts are being made at resolving the issue amicably between Hindus and Muslims so that the temple and the masjid come up on both sides of the Saryu river in Ayodhya. … The issue will be discussed at the two-day national conference in Delhi University on “Shree Ram Janambhoomi Temple: The Emerging Scenario” which would see the coming together of 300 scholars, academics and archaeologists who would discuss legal and other aspects of the Ram Temple.” – PTI

BJP leader Subramanian Swamy today claimed that work on the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya would start before this year-end and an action plan for that would be unveiled at a conference here on January 9.

He, however, made it clear that the temple would not come up through a movement but only after the court verdict, which he hoped would come by August-September and with the mutual consent of Muslim and Hindu communities.

“We expect the construction work on the Ram temple at Ayodhya to start within the next two-three months and certainly before the end of this year. We will wait for a court verdict and the temple would not come up through any ‘andolan‘ (movement),” he told reporters at the VHP office here.

Asked if the decision was linked to the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in early 2017, he said, “Rama should not be linked with elections. Rama is a matter of faith for Hindus and construction of the temple at Ayodhya is a commitment of every Hindu.”

Ram Seminar at DU 2016He said if the issue comes up later, it will then be linked to the next Lok Sabha polls.

Swamy claimed that efforts are being made at resolving the issue amicably between Hindus and Muslims so that the temple and the masjid come up on both sides of the Saryu river in Ayodhya.

The issue will be discussed at the 2-day national conference in Delhi University on “Shree Ram Janambhoomi Temple: The Emerging Scenario” which would see the coming together of 300 scholars, academics and archaeologists who would discuss legal and other aspects of the Ram Temple.

Among the speakers at the conference include legal experts, archaeologists and experts, besides historians and Swamy himself. It will be organised under the aegis of Arundhati Vashisht Anusandhan Peeth.

“An action plan will be presented at the conference and government urged to move the court and become a party in the case,” he said, adding, “If government supports us, we will start the construction work on the temple within two-three months”.

Talking about the case, he said, “it is in such a stage that the verdict is likely to come out by August or September this year.”

Swamy when asked about the controversy over the conference at Delhi varsity campus, said it is not a Delhi University sponsored event but an event for which a hall has been rented out and the same is being held on a weekend.

He also rubbished charges by Congress and Left that it was aimed at vitiating the campus atmosphere among students there.

“We will hold consultations with the Muslim community and help try to resolve the issue amicably,” he said, adding that the Narasimha Rao government had in 1994 told the constitution bench of Supreme court that it will allow a temple to be rebuilt if it is proved that the site belongs to a temple.

The conference will discuss the history, archaeological evidence and the legal issues relating to the Ayodhya temple. – Economic Times, 6 January 2016

Ram Seminar

NSUI protest at Delhi University

Ram temple will surely be built in Ayodhya: RSS – Lalmani Verma

Shila Puja at Ayodhya

Lalmani Verma“Work on carving stones to make structures for Ram temple is already underway at the workshop of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, which is being overseen by VHP secretary general Champat Rai.”- Lalmani Verma

A day after Opposition members in the Rajya Sabha raised the issue of stones being brought to Ayodhya for construction of Ram temple and alleged that it was a conspiracy by the BJP and the RSS to communally polarise Uttar Pradesh ahead of the 2017 Assembly polls, RSS’ all India Sah-Prachar Pramukh, J Nandakumar, on Thursday clarified the temple will certainly be built in the future but the Sangh will not take any step against the law to ensure the same.

Referring to the statement issued by Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas member and former BJP MP, Ram Vilas Vedanti, on Wednesday that RSS wants construction work to begin before Assembly polls, Nandakumar said no deadline has been fixed for the purpose.

Temporary Ram temple on the Babri Masjid site after the demolition.“That is Ram Janmabhoomi and it is a clear fact. Temple will be built there in future. The high court has given its judgment that there is Ram Janmabhoomi but some people are not agreeing to it and have moved the higher court. Every person in the country who thinks in the interest of the nation agrees that a temple should be built at Ram Janmabhoomi. But, the problem is with time,” said Nandakumar, who was in Lucknow on a two-day tour. “RSS has never believed in doing anything against law and order and other constitutional arrangements,” he added.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Nandakumar said while no discussion for fixing a deadline has taken place in the RSS, as far as the issue of tabling a bill in the Parliament was concerned, it was a matter associated with the government and not in the hands of RSS.

“The temple has already come up at the site but it is yet to be given a grander shape,” he added.

Kanchi Acharya Jayendra SaraswatiThe controversy associated with Ram temple began after a fresh lot of pink sandstones from Rajasthan arrived at Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s workshop in Ram Sevak Puram in Ayodhya on Sunday [Dec. 20th].

Following the development, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav had held a meeting on Tuesday with top state officials. They were directed that effective measures be taken to ensure peace and harmony in the state.

Work on carving stones to make structures for Ram temple is already underway at the workshop of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, which is being overseen by VHP secretary general Champat Rai.

The government is keeping a close watch on the activities taking place at the workshop. – The Indian Express, 25 December 2015

» Lalmani Verma reports to The Indian Express on Ayodhya.

Carving stones for Ram temple at Ayodhya

Proposed Ram Temple in Ayodhya

Cultural heritage a target in times of strife – Lee Keath

ISIS vandalising Hatra, Iraq

In this image made from an ISIS video posted on YouTube in April 2015, an IS jihadi militant hammers away at a face on a wall in ancient Hatra, a large fortified 3rd century BCE Seleucid (Greek) city in Iraq recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

A nearly 2,000-year-old temple in the Syrian city of Palmyra in August was the latest victim in the Islamic State group’s campaign of destruction of historic sites across the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria.

The group has destroyed ancient buildings and artifacts, as well as shrines to Shiite and Sunni Muslim saints (looting some sites for profit) all in the name of purging what it considers symbols of idolatry to create a society dedicated solely to its extreme and violent interpretation of Islam. The IS campaign has horrified many around the world with a scope of destruction that hasn’t been seen for decades.

Still, it isn’t unprecedented.

Throughout the centuries, invaders, religious fanatics and colonizers have targeted works of art, houses of worship and other pieces of heritage. The goal is often to uproot, eliminate, replace or impose control over the culture and heritage of their opponents. Nearly every ethnic or religious conflict across history has seen at least some cultural destruction, along with genocides like the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews.

Below is a look at some examples:

Wahhabism

The Islamic State group’s rabid ideology against shrines and historical sites is rooted in Wahhabism, the ultraconservative Sunni Muslim interpretation preached by Sheikh Muhammed Abd al-Wahhab, who lived in the 1700s in what is now Saudi Arabia. Allied with the powerful Saud family, Abdul-Wahhab’s followers destroyed anything they saw as promoting idolatry or polytheism, including shrines of Shiite and Sufi saints, and the destruction of a major Shiite shrine at Karbala in what is now Iraq. Today, the alliance with Wahhabism remains one of the foundations of rule by the Al Saud royal family.

Protestant Reformation

During the Reformation in 16th century Europe, Protestant preachers railed in sermons against Catholic statues of saints and other religious relics as forms of idolatry. Mobs of Protestants attacked hundreds of Catholic churches, particularly in France, Germany and the Netherlands, destroying statues and images. In England under King Henry VIII, churches were stripped of their relics and riches. The result erased from Europe’s cultural landscape untold numbers of works of art.

Muslim invasion of Spain

During the Muslim invasion of Spain in the 8th century, churches were often destroyed or turned into mosques. Conversely, when Christians took back the peninsula in the centuries-long Reconquista, completed in the 15th century, they destroyed mosques or turned them into churches. Also, after King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella ordered the expulsion of Jews from the peninsula in 1492, synagogues were turned into churches.

Second Jewish Temple, Jerusalem

Roman armies destroyed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. after a revolt against Roman rule. The temple, built 500 years earlier to replace the first temple destroyed by the Babylonians, was the heart of Judaism. The first temple had held the Ark of the Covenant, which vanished after the Babylonian conquest. All that remains of the second temple is its Western Wall, which is today the holiest site in Judaism, located at the base of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

Aztecs’ Templo Mayor

Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, in 1521, bringing to an end the empire that ruled over much of what is now Mexico. To root out the local religion, Cortes ordered temples destroyed, including the Templo Mayor, the giant step pyramid at the center of Aztec spiritual culture, and site of their human sacrifices. The temple was leveled, and a Catholic church built on its remains. Parts of the temple were uncovered in the 1970s during the digging of a metro in Mexico City.

Benin

From the 15th to 17th centuries, Benin (in modern-day Nigeria) was one of the grandest capitals in Africa. In the late 19th century, negotiations with the British trying to dominate the area and its trade turned bloody, with Benin’s troops killing a British expeditionary force. In retaliation, British troops captured the city and burned it to the ground, destroying its palaces and religious sites. They also carted off some 2,500 works of art, including bronze and ivory sculptures and plaques and the palace’s carved wooden gate.

Beijing’s Old Summer Palace

During the Second Opium War, waged by Britain and France against China to force it to open up markets and legalize the opium trade, British troops in 1860 destroyed the sprawling Old Summer Palace in retaliation after the Chinese tortured and executed members of a British diplomatic mission. Built some 100 years earlier, the palace was a sprawling complex of palaces, pavilions and gardens filled with works of art. After orders came from Britain’s High Commissioner in China, Lord Elgin (notorious for his looting of marbles from Greece’s Parthenon) it took 3,500 troops three days to burn down and tear apart the palace.

Babri Mosque

Hindu activists tore down the 16th-century Babri Mosque in northern India in 1992, sparking riots across the country that left at least 2,000 people dead. Hindu groups claim the mosque was built after a temple dedicated to the Hindu god King Rama was destroyed by Muslim invaders, though that claim is disputed by some historians. Still, it’s undisputed that over the centuries, Muslim invaders of South Asia did destroy Hindu holy sites. For example, the Somnath Temple in western India was destroyed multiple times by Muslim rulers, the first time in the 11th century.

Modern-day Islamic militants

For decades in the 20th century, Islamic militant groups in the Middle East, including al-Qaida, put little emphasis on destroying shrines or historical sites. But al-Qaida’s ally the Taliban brought back the tactic in dramatic fashion in 2001 when they blew up the two towering 1,500-year-old statues of Buddha carved into a mountain in the Afghan region of Bamiyan, stunning the world.

Since then, the tactic has gained prominence among Islamic extremists as a way to tout their claim to “purify” society and create their vision of an Islamic state. Sunni hard-liners have increasingly attacked shrines across the Middle East.

In the West African nation of Mali, Islamic radicals in 2012 overran Timbuktu, the historic city of Islamic culture. The militants destroyed 14 of the city’s 16 tombs of prominent figures and thinkers and also targeted the library of camel-skin-bound manuscripts dating back to the 13th century that included ancient learning in astronomy, law, history and philosophy. They set fire to the institute where many of the manuscripts were stored, destroying an estimated 4,000, though the majority were successfully spirited out of the city by the library’s custodians. – Herald & Review, 3 October 2015

Aurangzeb's general order for the demolition of Hindu temples (9th April 1669) included the Somnath Temple in Gujarat.

Somnath Temple ruins in 1869.

Somnath Temple

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