By Abhishek Jha:
It was only about a couple of weeks ago that in an instance of “unity in diversity”, it was reported that Muslims have donated land for the construction of the world’s largest Hindu temple. “Muslims have not only donated land, they have also provided land at a nominal rate for construction of the world’s largest Hindu temple. Without the help of Muslims, it would have been difficult (to) realise this dream project,” Acharya Kishore Kunal, secretary of the Mahavir Mandir trust that is undertaking the ambitious project said.
Recent reports from the western state of Gujarat say that permission will have to be sought by non-Hindus for visiting the Somnath temple in Veraval town in Gujarat, home to one of the twelve Shiva jyotirlingas. The permission will have to be obtained from the General Manager’s office (of the temple) and it will require them to explain the purpose of their visit, an NDTV report said. The decision was taken by the Somnath Trust’s secretary, P K Lahiri. This board of trustees includes Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP leader L K Advani, and is headed by former Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel.
Although security reasons have been cited for this new rule, it is interesting to note that the temple has never had any such restriction despite several terror threats. In fact, the Trustee Secretary himself agrees that “security reasons are always there.” The decision seems to have been taken after a woman in a burqa was allowed inside the temple premises, which “raised the suspicion on whether non-Hindus should be checked, whether they should be allowed to go and whether something will happen.” While a majority of religious places don’t seem to have any authority regulating entry on the basis of the religion of the person visiting the place, as one will know from personal experience, one needs to question whether a security check – irrespective of religion – should not have been enough.
The Somnath temple, which is said to have been in existence for several centuries now, has had as diverse a history as one would expect of an old historical site. Romila Thapar, a historian of international acclaim who had turned down the Padma Bhushan to refuse the patronage of any particular government, and who has also written a book on the Somnath temple had argued so in an interview to The Hindu in 2012. Explaining how the “preconceptions of periodization” affect historical investigation, she had said, “Sanskrit sources were consulted up to AD 1200 and then historians dropped using Sanskrit sources and switched to Persian sources since this was now the Muslim period!” The Sanskrit sources such as inscriptions and Jain histories give a twist to history that is missing in popular accounts, which speak only of pillaging of the temple by invaders from the Arab world. “Inscriptions referred to Arab leaders being given land from the estates of the Somnath temple to build a mosque by a local Hindu raja; and other inscriptions mention the trade by temple authorities with the Arab traders. There was one very touching inscription: a memorial to a Bohra of Arab descent living in Somnath, who died defending Somnath against the attacks of the Delhi Sultan. I began to see that this was clearly a mixed population and their religious emotions were also closely intertwined. It would seem that the Persian chronicles were not reflecting reality,” she had said. “It’s a very complex history, and quite different from the monochrome mythology of the ratha yatras of recent times, which is why the subtitle of the book is The Many Voices of History,” she had concluded.
But the history of our country is filled with the wrecks of claims to lands and religious places. What is pertinent now is whether such exclusionary rule helps the temple and its followers/trustees. If running the temple raises money, there are going to be losses. If the temple wishes to promote Hinduism, it is preaching to the converted. And if it wishes to offer benediction, it will leave many a bereaved souls out.