Over 100 pilgrims held prayers for a few hours Friday morning at the ASI-protected Martand Sun Temple ruins in Anantnag district of Jammu and Kashmir.
Guarded by security personnel provided by the district administration, the pilgrims sat on a stone platform amid the ruins of the ancient temple of Surya, reciting from Hindu scriptures and texts.
The 8th century temple was said to have been destroyed during the rule of Sikandar Shah Miri between 1389 and 1413.
Video clips of the event made the rounds of social media. The contingent carried a saffron flag with Om written on it, as well as a Tricolour. Chanting ‘Har Har Mahadev’, the pilgrims blew conches.
Armed security personnel walked with them, and could be seen standing around the pilgrims as some sat on a stone platform and recited the Hanuman Chalisa and verses from the Gita, while others sat on the grass and watched the proceedings.
Monuments under ASI protection are not open for prayers by any community unless such prayers were being held at the site at the time it was taken over by the Central archaeological body. A source familiar with the functioning of the ASI said no prayers were allowed at any place of worship that was in ruins when the body took charge of it.
The leader of the contingent, Maharaj Rudranath Anhad Mahakal, who said he heads a religious body in Karauli in Rajasthan called Rashtriya Anhad Mahayog Peeth, said he had emailed the District Commissioner’s office about his plan to hold prayers at the Martand temple, but got no response.
“We decided to go ahead with our plan. Instead of just talking about these things, we should act. From the site, when I called the District Commissioner, he said he had no prior intimation of our karyakram. He said it is not a safe area and sent a force for our protection,” Rudranath said.
May 6 was chosen as the date as it was Shankaracharya Jayanti, the mahant said, and marked the commemoration of Adi Shankaracharya’s visit to Kashmir. He said like the saint-philosopher, the mission of his group was also to free people from the violence in Kashmir by spreading the “gyan” of “Bharatiya sanskriti”.
The group, he said, was at the Martand temple from about 8 am to noon.
The Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir was not available for comment and the District Commissioner did not respond to phone calls and text messages.
A source said Kashmir was receiving many tourists this year, and the Martand temple site, which featured in Bollywood films Haider and Aandhi, was a big attraction.
The source said tourists of all faiths flock to the ruins, and to a functioning Shiva temple nearby in Mattan, and it was not unusual for Hindu tourists to sit on stone platforms on the grounds of the temple and offer prayers. He said prayers were not allowed in the inner areas of the ruins.
While the Shiva temple at Mattan is an important stop for Amarnath pilgrims, this is the first time Martand has seen an organised attempt at holding prayers. Rudranath said the idea behind offering prayers was to “revive Maa Bharat” as Kashmir was her “head and brain”.
“There is terrorism and fear over the place. It has attacked Maa Bharat’s head and caused a brain haemorrhage. She is in a coma. But she has not lost any of her shakti. This was an attempt to cure her and bring back her shakti,” he said.
“We went to purify the place, just like we do a pooja for grihapravesh before we enter a new house,” he said.
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“If pressure is created, we can all go there and a balance will be created, and there can be peace. Otherwise, our history will disappear and the roots will be lost forever,” he said, expressing his disappointment that the “Surya dhwaj” — the flag hoisted by the pilgrims — had been taken off as soon as they left.
Rudranath said officials had tried to turn them away at the entrance itself, but the group stood its ground. “Our prayers were held inside the temple,” he said, adding that he would return to hold a “yagna”.
Rajeev Sharma, a participant, said the group comprised 101 Brahmins, mostly from UP and Rajasthan.