The ‘Pran Pratishta‘ of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya – billed by the BJP as a mega-spectacle to be headlined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election will be attended by over 10,000 special guests from across India, including 100 international dignitaries. However, at least two of four shankaracharyas – the most important Hindu religious leaders – will not be present, citing failure to follow norms and a “political angle” to an event similarly criticised by the opposition.
The shankaracharyas of the Govardhana Peetha in Odisha’s Puri and the Jyotir Mutt in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli have said they will not attend, citing, among other reasons, the presence of Mr Modi in the sanctum sanctorum. Those from the Sharda Peeth in Karnataka’s Sringeri and the Sharada Peetha in Gujarat’s Dwarka, have not, so far, confirmed, or denied, their attendance.
Either way, the fact two of four shankaracharyas will not attend has given the opposition significant ammo to attack the BJP, which has pitched the consecration of the Ayodhya Ram Temple as a landmark politico-religious event underlining the Prime Minister’s credentials ahead of the election.
Who Are The Shankaracharyas?
The title of ‘shankaracharya’ is awarded to the leaders of four sects founded by Adi Shankaracharya in the eighth century, as mentioned in the Advaita Vedanta tradition of Hinduism. Established across the country – Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Odisha, and Karnataka – each is supposed to safeguard one of the four Vedas, and each shankaracharyas is widely seen as the last word in interpreting scriptures.
What Have They Said?
The Puri shankaracharya, Swami Nischalananda Saraswati, last week said, “Lord Ram’s consecration must be done in a dignified way. Prime Minister will be in the sanctum sanctorum and will touch the idol… this is being given a political angle. I will neither oppose nor attend,” he told news agency ANI.
Swami Saraswati also said, in his opinion, the consecration itself “should be done according to scriptural guidelines… otherwise deity’s radiance diminishes and demonic entities (can) enter”.
He confirmed he had received an invitation but said he would not attend. “I am not upset… I have taken my stance. It is just my policy and principle… otherwise I keep going to Ayodhya,” he told ANI.
Swami Avimukteshwaranand, the shankaracharya of the Uttarakhand mutts, was equally firm he will not attend next week’s event, and said the construction of the Ram Temple does not signify a “victory” for Sanatan Dharma, or the Hindu religion, contrary to claims made by the BJP.
“Ayodhya had Ram Mandir before. This temple isn’t a ‘gift’ or ‘triumph’ for the religion,” he said, declaring, “When cow slaughter ends in the country, I will visit (and) celebrate with enthusiasm.”
Shankaracharyas Who Have Been Silent
The two other shankaracharyas – Shankaracharya Bharati Teerth of the Sringeri mutt and Shankaracharya Sadanand Saraswati of the Sharda Peeth in Dwarka, in the Prime Minister’s home state of Gujarat – have been silent so far, although there are reports they too will not attend.
Both, however, have put out statements, debunking such reports and hailing the January 22 event as “happiness for all Sanatan Dharma followers”, although neither confirmed attendance.
“This is false propaganda by ill-wishers… all are requested to disregard (this) and take note of only what has been published on the official website and social media platforms…” the Sringeri mutt said. The Dwarka Sharda Peeth called the news “misleading” and said, “We (only) want that all programmes of the Pran Pratishta” should be conducted as per the Vedas and scriptures.”
#WATCH | “Everything is being done as per the Shastras…They (Congress) are only giving excuses to not attend the ceremony,” says Acharya Satyendra Das, chief priest of Shri Ram Janambhoomi Teerth Kshetra on Congress saying ‘Pran Pratishtha’ being done in ‘incomplete’ Ayodhya… pic.twitter.com/55NnqmTElX
— ANI (@ANI) January 13, 2024
However, Acharya Satyendra Das, the chief priest of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra, told ANI “everything is being done as per the shastras”.
Political Row Over Shankaracharyas
The Congress – mercilessly attacked by the BJP as “anti-Hindu” after top leaders Mallikarjun Kharge, Sonia Gandhi, and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury turned down invites, calling for a divide between the religious and the political – has pointed to the shankaracharyas’ absence to emphasise its point.
The opposition party and the (at least) two shankaracharyas have found common ground on this key point – the temple is incomplete and, according to the religious leaders, cannot be consecrated. The shankaracharyas have also said the date – January 22 – is inauspicious, according to media reports.
“When they politicised the event… our shankaracharyas, who guide us, said they will not be attending. This has become such an issue that all shankaracharyas are saying they will boycott. If they are saying so, it has its own importance,” ex-Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said.
#WATCH | Congress party’s Chairperson Social Media & Digital Platforms Supriya Shrinate says, “All four Shankaracharyas have decided to not visit Ayodhya (for pranpratishtha of Ram Temple). But there is no outrage over this. Does this not hurt religion? It is absolutely wrong to… pic.twitter.com/qzm1RlbbbC
— ANI (@ANI) January 12, 2024
Other parties have also spoken out; Aam Aadmi Party leader and Delhi Minister Saurabh Bharadwaj accused the BJP of trying to divide the country on religious lines. “Shankaracharyas have said Pran Pratishtha of incomplete temple cannot be done. If this event is not religious, then it is political.”
So far the BJP’s senior leaders have been quiet on this topic. However, Union Minister Narayan Rane, on Saturday, called on the shankaracharyas to bless rather than criticise the Ram Temple event.
“No one could do it (build the Ram Temple) until now. Modi, BJP took it up and the temple is being built. Should they bless or criticise? It means shankaracharyas look at Modi, BJP through political prism,” he declared, adding, “Shankaracharyas should explain their contribution to Hinduism…”
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