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 Lieutenant-Governoralso participated in — 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 posted and shared widely on social media in recent days.
The group, led by a sadhu from Rajasthan, entered the complex at around 8 am on July 14 and walked into a section believed to have been the main shrine room, without being stopped. They were assembled there for almost an hour, chanting prayers and mantras. They also raised slogans of Bharat Mata ki Jai, members of the group told.
The incident again raises concerns about ASI’s capacity to enforce its own rules for protection of such sites. Those who had taken part in the puja said it was raining heavily and no guard was manning the monument’s entrance, which meant they got through to the innermost point without difficulty.
The 18-member contingent was led by Maharaj Rudranath Anhad Mahakal, who heads a religious body in Rajasthan’s Karauli called Rashtriya Anhad Mahayog Peeth. This was the second time that Rudranath led a prayer assembly at Martand. The first time was on May 6, with a much bigger group that included 108 sadhus. Three days later, on May 9, J&K L-G Sinha participated in another pooja at the site, much grander in scale, with the priests flown in from Kerala.
Rudranath told The Indian Express that he chose July 14 to pray at Martand as it coincides with the. On the first occasion, May 6 was Shankaracharya Jayanti, observed in commemoration of Adi Shankaracharya’s visit to Kashmir.
“Some people had sought permission for conducting the pooja but we denied permission,” an official from the Srinagar Circle of the ASI said. This official said local Hindu residents, too, have made requests for holding prayers at the Martand temple but permission has hardly been granted.
Rudranath said his group did not seek any written permission, but their local associates and some local officials knew of their proposed move. “Although they tried to dissuade us verbally, no one really refused permission or gave any blanket orders to stop us,” he said.
The eighth-century temple was said to have been destroyed during the rule of Sikandar Shah Miri between 1389 and 1413. While the nearby Shiva temple at Mattan is an important stop for Amarnath pilgrims, this year has seen multiple attempts by organised groups to hold prayers at the ancient Martand temple, situated 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 Matan 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 is not repentant. “We are determined to revive the Martand temple, and will continue to perform pooja here during special occasions. Next time, we shall hoist a dharma flag too.” He also adds that just like the government plans to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley, he plans to revive the past 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 the month of July.”
In May, a day after the J&K L-G participated in the prayer ceremony at Martand, which is classified as a “non-living” protected monument, where no religious ceremony/ ritual can be held unless permitted under special circumstances, the ASI “deemed the incident as a violation of its rules”, and in a communication to the administration, expressed concern that it had taken place. However, the agency — which functions under the Ministry of Culture — did not lodge a formal complaint.