Ram Temple Consecration: Controversy over Scriptures Vs Politics as Two of the Four Shankaracharyas Decide to Skip
NEW DELHI, Jan 15: The controversy over the consecration ceremony of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on January 22 is hotting up with some BJP leaders criticising the Shankaracharyas for deciding to skip the event for “deviating” from scriptures and the opposition attacking the BJP for criticising the Shankaracharyas.
“The Shankaracharyas have the last word in interpreting the Hindu scriptures and if they are saying that the ceremony was not being performed in keeping with the Hindu shastra then it can not be called a religious ceremony but only a political event for votes for the BJP,” senior opposition party leaders said.
Preparations are in full swing for the grand inauguration of the temple, anticipated to attract dignitaries and individuals from various backgrounds. The Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust has set noon on January 22 as the moment to install the idol of Ram Lalla in the sanctum sanctorum of the Ram Temple.
The Vedic rituals for the Pran-Pratishtha ceremony of Ram Lalla in Ayodhya are scheduled to commence on January 16, one week prior to the main ceremony. Some Shankaracharyas, however, have said January 22 was an inauspicious day for the consecration ceremony.
The ‘Pran Pratishtha’ of the Ram Temple, 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 the four Shankaracharyas – the most important Hindu religious leaders – have announced they would not attend the ceremony citing failure to follow norms and a “political angle” to an event, while the other two are still silent over the issue.
The Shankaracharya of the Govardhana Peetha in Odisha’s Puri and the Jyotir Mutt in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli have said they have received the invitation but they would 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 Sharda 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 Ram Temple as a landmark politico-religious event underlining the Prime Minister’s credentials ahead of the election.
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 is widely seen as the last word in interpreting scriptures.
The Shankaracharya of Puri, Swami Nischalanand Saraswati Maharaj, has clarified that the decision to skip the consecration ceremony of the Ram Temple was rooted in the deviation from established traditions during the installation of the Ram idol. “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 said.
“The [four] Shankaracharyas uphold their own dignity. This is not about ego. Are we expected to merely sit outside and applaud when the Prime Minister installs the idol of Ram Lalla? The presence of a ‘secular’ government does not imply the obliteration of tradition,” he remarked.
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 said.
Swami Avimukteshwaranand, the Shankaracharya of the Uttarakhand mutts, was equally firm he would not attend next week’s event, and said the construction of the Ram Temple did 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.”
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 would not attend. Both, however, have put out statements, hailing the January 22 event as “happiness for all Sanatan Dharma followers.” “We (only) want that all programmes of the Pran Pratishtha” should be conducted as per the Vedas and scriptures,” both have said even as Acharya Satyendra Das, the chief priest of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra, claimed “everything is being done as per the shastras.”
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.
“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.
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 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 the Shankaracharyas look at Modi and BJP through political prism,” he declared, adding, “Shankaracharyas should explain their contribution to Hinduism…”
Shiv Sena (UBT) Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Raut condemned Mr Rane for “insulting Hinduism” and demanded an apology from the BJP before January 22. Baramati MP Supriya Sule of the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party said it was for the BJP to respond on Mr Rane’s comments. Congress workers protested in Mumbai against the Union Minister.