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Seat of vairagya vs development — Dhami govt at odds with priests on Kedarnath wall gold plating

The facelift, sponsored by a 'mystery' Mumbai-based businessman will see the walls of the temple's sanctum sanctorum being covered with over 200 kgs of gold.

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Dehradun: Asserting that the shrine is a seat of vairagya (detachment from worldly pleasure), local purohits (priests) have risen in opposition to the Uttarakhand government’s nod to a proposal to cover the walls of Kedarnath’s sanctum sanctorum with over 200 kg of gold.

Local priests angered by the move alleged that it is against the shrine’s traditions since “gold is a symbol of wealth and worldly pleasure” and cannot be associated with the shrine which signifies “detachment from the physical world”. 

However, officials of the Badri Kedar Temple Committee (BKTC) — body that manages the shrine — argued the move is part of its “shrine area development plan”. Those opposing it have failed to put forth any logical argument to back their claims, BKTC members said.

Asked about the concerns voiced by local priests, Uttarakhand tourism and religious affairs minister Satpal Maharaj said the plan was “cleared by the government and is in process”.

“However, if someone has any issues, they will be heard and their concerns will be addressed. At the same time, the donor’s wish cannot be discounted. I am still not aware of the exact situation at Kedarnath but will inquire about it,” he told ThePrint.

The facelift, sponsored by a Mumbai-based businessman, was approved by the state government which was managing 53 temples in the state until the dissolution of the Char Dham Devasthanam Board in December last year following persistent protests by priests.

Also Read: Uttarakhand puts 15 cameras on way to Kedarnath, for PM Modi to track redevelopment if he wants

‘Priests were not even informed’

“We were surprised to see workers drilling holes in the walls of the sanctum sanctorum Thursday morning. Local purohits were not even informed about the development,” Vinod Shukla, president of Kedar Sabha, an association of local priests, told thePrint.

Shukla alleged that the state government and district administration were “trying to meddle with traditions and beliefs of Kedarnath”. He added that the shrine, known as moksha dham (place of salvation) or vairagya dham, professes detachment from worldly life.

“However, the government wants to snatch that sanctity away by giving a more decorative look to the temple. It must be left in its original form. We will not allow this to happen. We are stakeholders and ought to be consulted on decisions like this,” Shukla said. 

Ashutosh Chaturvedi, vice president of the Char Dham Tirth Purohit Samaj, a body of Char Dham pilgrimage priests, shared Shukla’s views. “The administration kept us in the dark about the sudden start of gold plating work despite our opposition to the idea in the past,” said Chaturvedi, who is also a member of the Kedar Sabha.

Chaturvedi went on to add that the proposal to cover the walls of the sanctum sanctorum with gold was discussed last week in a meeting of the District Magistrate (Rudraprayag) and Sub-Divisional Magistrate (Kedarnath) with local priests’ outfits.

“Despite our opposition, the DM said let us first remove the silver plating from the walls of the sanctum sanctorum and then decide about the gold plating plan but they started drilling the walls for gold plating without our knowledge,” he alleged.

Chaturvedi even said that purohits are now “guarding the temple and will not allow anyone to carry on work inside”. 

“If the government does not stop the gold plating and leave the walls of the sanctum sanctorum in their original form, Tirth Purohit (pilgrimage priests) community will resort to protest on roads,” he threatened. 

‘Nothing new with gold plating’

Officials of the BKTC, on the other hand, argued that gold plating in temples “is not new and no one can stop it”, adding that it is not a violation of the shrine’s age-old tradition.

“The gold plating work was taken up after consultations with departments concerned, including the Archeological Survey of India (ASI). No tradition has been violated. ASI and other experts were consulted before permission was granted,” BKTC chairman Ajendra Ajay told ThePrint.

Ajay alleged that a “handful of people are trying to create hurdles”, adding that the “issue will be resolved amicably and as per law”.

Kedarnath SDM Yogendra Singh, who is also CEO of the Kedarnath Development Authority (KDA), said this is not the first time a devotee has made a gold offering at a temple.

“Somnath temple in Gujarat, Kashi temple in Varanasi and a host of other temples already have gold donations in some forms. Those who say gold plating in Kedarnath is against the shrine’s religious beliefs and traditions very well know that the Badrinath shrine is also known as moksha dham and gold was donated to it a few years back,” he said.

Reiterating that the BKTC is a government body responsible for the conservation and development of the Badrinath and Kedarnath shrines, Singh told ThePrint: “We cannot do anything to demean the image of the shrines. Those alleging drilling inside the shrine structure must know that nothing is being done to the Shivlingam”.

Small holes are bring drilled to fix the gold plates, he said, adding that a similar task was undertaken when the walls of the sanctum sanctorum were covered with silver plates in 2016. “We are merely replacing silver with gold,” Singh clarified.

Mystery donor

A BKTC official, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint that the Mumbai-based businessman who donated 230 kg of gold to the temple, had told the BKTC chief that it was his “long-time wish” to see the walls of Kedarnath’s sanctum sanctorum covered in gold.

According to the official, BKTC chief Ajendra Ajay then approached the Uttarakhand government with a proposal to allow the donor to replace the existing silver plates with gold. “It is significant that the Pushkar Singh Dhami government cleared the proposal a week ago and work for gold plating started five days ago,” the official said.

He added that the “donor’s offering is equal to that of existing silver plating on the walls which will be around 230 kilograms of gold worth nearly Rs 100 crore — almost the same weight as that of silver plating”.

Asked about the exact amount of gold offered by the donor, BKTC chief Ajendra Ajay refused to divulge details and instead said, “it is almost the same as the existing silver plates in the sanctum sanctorum”.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

Also Read: Want UP-style madrasa surveys, mosque CCTVs in police control, says new Uttarakhand Waqf Board head


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