Two months after the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) red-flagged a religious ceremony at the Martand Sun Temple in Jammu and Kashmir’s Anantnag – which was also attended by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha – a group of Hindu pilgrims entered its premises and Held an hour-long prayer session in an inner section.
Video clips of the latest incident were widely posted and shared on social media in recent days.
The group, led by a sadhu from Rajasthan, entered the premises around 8 a.m. on July 14 and entered a section, believed to be the main shrine, without stopping. They kept on praying and chanting mantras there for about an hour. Members of the group told The Indian Express that they also raised slogans of Bharat Mata Ki Jai.
The incident again raises concerns about ASI’s ability to enforce its own rules to protect such sites. Those who took part in the puja said that it was raining heavily and there were no guards at the entrance of the monument, which meant that they reached the innermost point without any difficulty.
The 18-member team was led by Maharaja Rudranath Anhad Mahakal, who heads a religious body called the Rashtriya Anhad Mahayoga Peeth in Karauli, Rajasthan. This was the second time that Rudranath led a prayer meeting at Martand. For the first time on 6 May, with a very large group, consisting of 108 sadhus. Three days later, on 9 May, J&K L-G Sinha participated in another puja at the site, which was largely accompanied by priests from Kerala.
Rudranath told The Indian Express that he chose to offer prayers at Martand on July 14 as it coincides with the Amarnath Yatra. On the first occasion, May 6 was Shankaracharya Jayanti, which was celebrated in memory of Adi Shankaracharya’s visit to Kashmir.
“Some people had sought permission to perform the puja, but we refused permission,” said an officer from ASI’s Srinagar circle. This official said that local Hindu residents have also requested to worship at the Martand temple, but hardly any permission has been given.
Rudranath said his group did not ask for any written permission, but his local colleagues and some local officials were aware of his proposed move. “Though they tried to verbally refuse us, no one denied permission or gave us any blanket orders to stop,” he said.
The eighth-century temple is said to have been destroyed during the rule of Sikandar Shah Miri between 1389 and 1413. While the nearby Shiva temple in Mattan is an important stop for Amarnath pilgrims, this year has seen several attempts to organize prayers by organized groups. The ancient Martand temple is located a few kilometres away.
Rajeev Sharma, one of the participants, said the group comprised 18-20 people, mostly followers of Rudranath from Delhi, Mathura and Rajasthan. He said once they had left the temple complex after conducting the pooja, they got a call from Mattan Police Station warning them against doing a pooja there again. Later, an ASI official visited the group at their place of stay and issued a stern verbal warning against a repeat violation.
But Rudranath does not repent. “We are determined to revive the Martand temple and will continue to worship here during special occasions. Next time we will also hoist the flag of religion. He also says that just as the government is planning to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley, so is their plan to revive the old glory of the region.
Anantnag Deputy Commissioner Piyush Singla told The Indian Express: “We have not received any complaint from the ASI (custodians of the monument).”
Senior archaeologist Vasant Swarnkar, Spokesperson at ASI’s headquarters in Delhi, said he had no information about such an incident.
“I checked with ground staff at the monument and no such incident has been reported in July.”
In May, a day after the Jammu and Kashmir L-G attended a prayer ceremony at Martand, which is classified as a “non-living” protected monument, where no religious ceremony/ritual is held without permission under special circumstances However, the ASI “understood” the incident as a violation of its rules” and, in a letter to the administration, expressed concern that it had happened. However, the agency – which operates under the Ministry of Culture – issued a formal Complaint not registered.