Earlier we had published a report “Kashi Corridor – Are heritage structures, shrines, & “Devata-Murtis” being demolished?” where we had discussed how Shankaracharya designate of the Jyotish peeth, Swami Avimukteshwaranand Saraswati had accused the UP government under Yogi Adityanath of destroying heritage buildings, shrines, and ancient “murtis” in the name of Vikas (development) by constructing Kashi corridor. He had further declared that he would be launching a “Mandir Bachao Andolan” (Save temples Movement) and called upon other Hindus to join him in this movement and send in their suggestions and feedback to help preserve the antiquity, heritage, and culture of Kashi. In an exclusive interview for IndiaFacts, Swami Avimukteshwarananda explains to Dattaraj Deshpande the implications of the current issue in the context of Kashi’s importance to Sanatana Dharma, why development cannot happen at the cost of temples and why and how temples must be reclaimed back from the government control.
The entire interview in Hindi can be watched here.
Q: Please give a short introduction about the Mandir Bachao campaign you are running here in Kashi.
A: The city of Kashi is better than the three lokas. It is believed that it was Lord Vishnu’s city once. Later on, it was dedicated to Lord Shiva. Shivji used to reside here. There lived a king named Divodasa. He got a boon from Brahma to rule the city of Kashi. Divodasa. He had a genuine concern that with all the devatas residing in Kashi, he will not be able to rule with free hand. He requested Brahmaji that all devatas must go back to their own designated residences. This made all devatas leave the city of Kashi. Kashi became nirdeva, or deva-less. But as a result, a Dharmic rule of law was established here by Divodasa. Shiva also lived there. However, due to Brahmaji’s boon, he also had to leave Kashi. Brahmaji requested Shivji to go to Mandarachala Parvat. So Bhagvan Shiva left for Mandarachala Parvat and Divodasa was able to establish his kingdom here.
Divodasa’s reign lasted for a long time. For as long as Divodasa reigned Kashi, Shiva remained in Mandarachala but could never forget Kashi. He kept thinking about his return to Kashi. One day, he summoned Ganesha and ordered him to create right situation for his return to Kashi. Ganeshji came to Kashi but he could not find a single fault in Divodasa’s administration. He liked it so much that he didn’t go back and became a resident of Kashi himself. Same happened to the Chatushshashti Yoginis. Dvadasha Adityas were also sent. They all ended up being residents of Kashi and none of them went back. Finally Bhagavan Vishnu was sent to set things right for Shiva’s return. Divodasa’s reign finally came to an end.
Shiva was invited back to Kashi. Shiva finally came back to Kashi and he hasn’t left the city since. While he was residing in Mandarachala, he had established a Shivalinga named Abhimukta in Kashi. Never to be separated in any circumstance is Abhimuktam. Since, in a way, he never left this place it is also called Abhimukta Kshetra. This Abhimukta Kshetra has always remained as such. Thirty-three crore Devatas live here. They all have many forms. They are called Chappan (56) Vinayakas. They are called Dwadash Adityas, Nava Durga, Dasha Mahavidyas, Chatuhshashti Yogini, they all are here. Twenty-four forms of Vishnu are here as well. Along with all this there are numerous Shivalingas. There are many Shivalingas that are Shiva’s vigrahas. Some are his head, some his eyes, so on and so forth. And those that are not named are his skin, skin hair, etc. So everything that exists here is Shiva’s representation. And there is nothing that is not Shiva or does not belong to him. That’s why it’s said “each and every pebble stone of Kashi is Shankara himself”.
There are several temples here. That’s why Kashi is recognized world over not only as the oldest city, it is also known as a cultural city as well as the city of temples. There is no other city that houses as many temples as Kashi. That is why so many pilgrims come here. The Kashikhanda of the Skanda Purana describes the importance of Kashi. It also tells us about all the Devatas. When someone reads/hears the Puranas, especially the Kashi Khanda of the Skanda Purana, he/she desires to visit Kashi at least once in lifetime. He/she desires to take a holy dip in the Ganga and have darshana of Vishwanatha and Manikarneshwara. And then visit all places such as Panchakoshi, etc.
Currently, for whatever reason, it is believed that the present Indian administration is a pro-Hindu administration. However, this city was inflicted a wound several hundred years ago when Aurangzeb bulldozed several temples in Kashi. He did it so knowing that by breaking temples he was breaking every Hindu’s heart. There was a lot of opposition. Even today all Hindus, the followers of the Sanatana Dharma criticize Aurangzeb. Despite being a pro-Hindu government both at the Center and in the state, some of the things that are being done in Kashi today, even Aurangzeb didn’t do it. Ancient temples are being demolished to make way for Kashi Vishwanath Corridor and Ganga Pathway project. These projects have no rhyme and reason. Temples are to be demolished to make ways for waiting rooms, toilets, and VIP rooms. Is development always at the cost of temples? This is one thing that has been bothering us. So when people came and told me about it, I couldn’t believe it. I told them you must be mistaken. Why would a pro-Hindu governments of Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath demolish temples? But when people kept telling me about it, I decided to see it for myself. So I decided to come to see with my own eyes on April 3 before making any decision.
When I went there, I saw how ancient temples were demolished. Not only temples were the demolished but the resident moortis were also broken/damaged. You could see many of the moortis in the rubble. It felt like the Mahabharata war had just concluded and the moortis of our devi-devatas looked like the decapitated bodies of the army. I was hurt to see all this. Even then I thought that it must be the work of bureaucrats, not at the level of higher ups like Adityanath and Narendra Modi. So I wrote a letter to both Adityanath and Narendra Modi requesting them to halt this work. But I did not get a response either from Yogi Adityanath or from Narendra Modi. I even sent a reminder. Work still did not stop. They kept demolishing temples. Closed down many temples and devotees were stopped from worshiping in those temples.
That is when I started the Mandir Bachao (save temples) campaign. We felt the need to set up a trust to protect temples. We are running our drive under the aegis of this trust. We are not against development but not at the cost of temples. One cannot remain pretty if his/her nose is chopped off. Temples are our symbols of pride. If these temples are demolished, it will hurt the Sanatana Dharma a lot. This loss can never be recovered. That’s why we need to save these temples at all costs. So we have started a ‘chipko’ drive. When someone comes to demolish the temple, we go and press ourselves against temples walls. So if they want to break the wall, they will have to hit us first with the hammer. Once we are dead they can do whatever they want to. But we cannot see this happen while we are alive. So this drive is going on. It’s been about month and a half. We have raised our concerns in various ways. We are holding meetings and sabhas in 1133 villages of Varanasi district. Between June 28 and July 4 we will be performing a Mandir Bachao Yajna. We are inviting everyone for this Yajna. So this is what is happening now.
Q: Is this drive to save temples or to rescue temples from government control?
A: This Bachao includes all. First we need to stop the destruction or potential destruction of temples. Once it is ensured that they will not be demolished, we will ensure that all shastric routine of the temple is established. If any damages, we will fix it. We will ensure that the glory of the temple is reestablished. Then we will work towards bringing all those government controlled temples back to the control of the Sanatana Dharmis. Because the governments are secular. They have no right to do religious work. Additionally, those bureaucrats who manage the temples have no training in running it. Neither do they know the Shastra nor the tradition. As a result, they don’t know/understand the rituals. Hence they cannot manage temples. Wherever they are in charge of temple management, the dignity of temple has gone down. Take the example of Kashi Vishwanath temple. Since 1983, all you hear about is mismanagement. They don’t do a good job managing nor do they understand the dignity of temples. Thats why we want all temples of India whose management has been taken over by the government, including the Kashi Vishwanath temple, should be returned back to the faithful. It should be returned to those who know the rituals and have devotion. We will take our Mandir Bachao Andolan to that level.
Q: There are many organization in Karnataka, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh that are running the ‘Reclaim Temples’ movement. In Delhi, it is the Srijan Foundation. In Karnataka it is the Bharat Punarutthana Trust. There are many organizations working in their own ways. There is no unity amongst them. There no unanimity in how to run these temples. Each temple has its own agama and nuances in rituals, etc. But there is no institution to train people to perform these mandir-specific rituals.
A: We will have to setup an organization at all India level. All organizations that are doing specific work in their own specific fields have their own roles. But we need an all-India organization consisting of Sanatana Dharmis which will manage all the temples. Once that happens, then they will understand the traditions of the temple rituals. The puja and rituals should be performed according to the specific traditions and agama of that temple. But we have to have all this prepared prior to getting the management back from the government. We should not wait do it after we get the management of the temples. We will all have to sit together and set up an organization that will restore the dignity of the temples. Its work should be exemplary and satisfy the citizens’ expectations. We heard that during the Karnataka election Bharatiya Janata Party promised in its manifesto that it will give the temple management back to people if voted to power. So we asked why in Karnataka only? Why not do it in Uttar Pradesh? But the government of Uttar Pradesh is not saying anything about it right now. We must understand the power of unified 125 crore voices. This will force any government to listen to us. But we should only have principled demands. I am confident that all dharmikas are dignified people and they will only say what is right. If we say the right things and in a unified voice, no government can ignore us. Hence, I request all like-minded people and organizations to have an all-India level conference so that we can unify our energy and resources and develop a good plan to frame the future of temples in India.
Q: What kind of support do you seek for your movement from those who are watching this IndiaFacts interview?
A: We want all like-minded scholars should come together and discuss these issues and come up with a blueprint for restoring the dignity of the temples. There should also be a fund established for this so that we are not fighting this battle alone. I also want those watching this IndiaFacts interview to be active in this movement. You must come forward to help this movement. Set up an all-India organization to manage all Sanatana temples and help such efforts in whatever way you can. You should protest wherever temples are taken over by the government. Those who can protest and sit on dharnas, should do that. Those who can write articles they should do that as well. Wherever there is conference on this matter people should participate. We have seen that we give note, vote, and support to politicians. But whenever an adversity strikes us, no one stands by us. Temples are being demolished in Kashi and it’s the BJP people who are doing this. No one from Congress, SP, and BSP has stood for us either. Like we see the public notice “take care of your own luggage”, we must have notice boards all over saying Sanatana Dharmi Hindus should look after themselves. No one will come to support and help them in their adversity. That’s why all Sanatanis needs to stand up.
Narayana, Narayana smriti to all. Blessings of Bhagvan Vishwanatha. I call upon you to write to UP CM Adityanath to save temples.
The interview has been transcribed and translated into English by Avatans Kumar
Featured Image: Live VNS