J&K LG Manoj Sinha joins pooja at ruins of ASI-protected temple

J&K LG Manoj Sinha joins pooja at ruins of ASI-protected temple

India News

This is the second religious ceremony in three days at the site, which the ASI has tagged as a “site of national importance”. The ASI does not permit prayers at a protected site unless it was a functioning place of worship at the time the the body took charge of it.

A press release issued by Sinha’s office said he took part in a “navagraha ashatamangalm pooja” at the temple, which was “held in the presence of saints, members of Kashmiri Pandit community and local residents”.

It is unclear if the administration took permission from the ASI for the event. The press release did not mention if ASI clearance was obtained for the pooja. ASI officials were unavailable for comment.

The leader of the group that conducted a pooja on May 6 told The Indian Express they had not taken permission from the ASI, as it was a Hindu temple and worshippers should be allowed to conduct religious ceremonies and offer prayers.

According to the press release, the LG “reiterated the government’s commitment to protect and develop ancient sites of cultural and spiritual significance”. He was quoted as saying that the administration was “making dedicated efforts to transform historical spiritual places of J&K into vibrant centres that will guide us on the path of righteousness…”

The priests for the ceremony were flown in from Kerala, The Indian Express has learnt. As the LG took part in the rituals, several of his security personnel ringed the area where the pooja was being held. The site was turned into a fortress for most part of the day.

A contingent of Kashmiri Pandits affiliated to the Panun Kashmir group were in attendance, as was the former BJP Assembly member Surinder Ambardar. Kashmir Divisional Commissioner Pandurang K Pole, IGP K Vijay Kumar, Deputy Commissioner Piyush Singla and other officials accompanied Sinha.

There have been periodic demands by Hindu groups for opening the temple for worship, but no religious ceremonies have been previously allowed at the site, although individual worshippers have not been prevented from offering prayers, local sources said. Mostly, it has been a picnic site for people of the area.

Since the August 2019 constitutional changes to the status of J&K, there have been demands from Hindu groups, including the Kashmiri Pandit community, for restoration of Hindu temples in Kashmir. Mostly the demands have centred on temples that were functional until the 1990s, when most Kashmiri Pandits fled the Valley in the face of militancy.

Such demands have increased over the past three months, and have been expanded to include protected sites such as the Martand temple. On May 6, a group of over a 100 people led by the mahant of a Hindu peeth based in Karauli in Rajasthan, recited the Bhagvad Gita and the Hanuman Chalisa at Martand.

In November 2021, the National Monuments Authority, headed by Tarun Vijay, former editor of the RSS journal Panchajanya and former Rajya Sabha MP, said in a statement that it was planning to make a bid for the UNESCO World Heritage Site status for Martand among other sites in J&K.

Across the country, religious worship at protected monuments has been a fraught issue over the years. According to Rule 7 (1) of the 1959 Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Rules, meetings, receptions, party, entertainment or conferences cannot be held at a protected monument without permission in writing from the central government. Rule 7 (2) says this shall not apply to any event held “in pursuance of a recognised religious usage or custom”. However, every government, including the present government, has stuck by the practice of not permitting religious activities or events at sites that were not “live” places of worship at the time of being designated as a protected monument by the ASI.

As such, prayers are not allowed at the mosque in the precincts of Qutub Minar despite demands by Muslims of the area. Similarly, religious worship and rituals are banned in the 12th century Sidhpur Mahalaya temple in Gujarat’s Pattan district, and at Shore temple in Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu. But they are allowed at Shri Jagannath Temple in Puri and at Jama Masjid in Delhi because these were “live” monuments, functional temples at the time the ASI took them over.

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