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OPINION | SHANKARACHARYAS: CONGRESS PAWNS IN POLITICAL GAME?

Congress has made two Shankaracharyas as pawns in the game of political chess moves. With top Congress leaders refusing to attend the ceremony, BJP has made it a big issue.

Written By: Rajat Sharma @RajatSharmaLive New Delhi Published on: January 12, 2024 17:42 IST
India TV Editor-in-chief Rajat Sharma
Image Source : INDIA TV India TV Editor-in-chief Rajat Sharma

The Congress is trying to raise a fresh controversy over the January 22 consecration event of Ram Janmasthan temple in Ayodhya, which will be attended by nearly 6,000 people including the nation’s Who’s Who celebrities. Congress leaders have alleged, BJP is trying divide Hindus between Ramanandi sect and Shaiva sect by keeping the four top Shankaracharyas away from the ‘Pran Pratistha’(consecration) rites to be performed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. Congress leaders have alleged that BJP has “hijacked” Ram Lalla and has made the consecration event a political one.  Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh questioned the locus standi of BJP and Vishwa Hindu Parishad in deciding whom to invite for the inauguration of Ram temple. Describing the Shankaracharyas as the main propagators of Sanatan tradition, Singh said, BJP and VHP are “insulting” the Shankaracharyas, who have refused to attend the ceremony. On Thursday, two top Shankaracharyas, the Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath Swami Avimukteshwarananda Saraswati and the Shankaracharya of Puri Govardhan Peeth, Swami Nischalananda Saraswati said, they will not attend the January 22 event. Both cited different reasons. 

Swami Avimukteshwarnanda said, the Ayodhya event is a political one and the Prime Minister is installing the Ram Lalla idol in a hurry for  political gains. He argued that the construction of the temple is yet to be completed, and he would not attend any function unless the temple construction is complete. Swami Avimukteshwarananda (born as Umashankar Pandey)  is a known detractor of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He had opposed the creation of Kashi Vishwanath corridor and had sat on fast for several days.  Both Avimukteshwarananda’s and Digvijay Singh’s guru are the same: the Late Swami Swaroopananda Saraswati, who passed away last year. He had appointed Avimukteshwarananda in his will. Avimukteshwarananda became a disciple of Swaroopananda Saraswati in 2000 in Varanasi.  His appointment as Shankaracharya was opposed by Niranjani Akhada and Akhil Bharatiya Akhada Parishad (the apex body of sadhus). The second Shankaracharya Nischalananda Saraswati (born as Nilambar Jha) of Puri Govardhan Peeth is the 145th Shankaracharya in the long list of predecessors. The octogenarian Shankarachya was a disciple of Swami Karpatri Maharaj. Nischalananda’s father was the Raj Purohit of the ruler of Darbhanga state in Bihar. Swami Nischalananda has been claiming since long that Shankaracharyas have the right to exercise dominance over rulers. He has no issue with the inaguaration of Ayodhya temple. He is only questioning why Prime Minister Modi is performing the consecration rites inside the sanctum sanctorum?  He believes that the consecration rites should be performed only by a Shankaracharya (read himself). He has told media that if the Prime Minister will perform the consecration rites, what is the use of attending such a ceremony. ‘Should we sit and clap our hands?’, he asked. Clearly, this Shankaracharya has ego issues, and he is unwilling to accept that a Shankaracharya should sit as a mere spectator. According to VHP leaders, all the Shankaracharyas were formally invited and requested to attend the event with one attendant in tow. This got the goat of Swami Nischalananda. He refused to go to Ayodhya with only an attendant in tow. After he declined, Congress leaders came into the picture and spread the word that the Shankaracharyas have declined to attend a “political event”. 

The remaining two Shankaracharyas have given their blessings for the event. On January 8, the office of Shankaracharya of Sringeri Sharda Peetham, Shri Bharati Teerth, issued a statement saying “it is a matter of joy for all Astikas (believers) that after a struggle of five centuries, the Pran Pratistha is to take place in the beautiful temple constructed for Bhagwan Sri Rama in the Sri Rama Janmabhoomi Kshetra of sacred Ayodhya on Pushya Shukla Dvadashi (22-1-2024). It has been noted that certain ill-wishers… have posted on social media a photo of Shankaracharya which conveys that he has expressed displeasure over the Pran Pratistha. However, the Sringeri Shankaracharya has not given any such message. This is merely a false propaganda by ill-wishers of our Dharma. …Shankaracharya has conveyed blessings that every Aastika must suitably take part in this most sacred and rare Prana-Pratistha and be a recipient of the unbounded grace of Bhagwan Sri Rama.” The Shankaracharya of Dwarka Peeth Swami Sadananda Saraswati, in a statement, said, the sacred occasion of Pran-Pratistha has come after decades of efforts and he hoped all the rites of Pran Pratishtha will be performed in accordance with Shastras. Vishwa Hindu Parishad working president Alok Kumar said, none of the Shankaracharyas have opposed the inauguration of Ram temple, and an unnecessary controversy is being created. He said the Ram Janmasthan Teerth Kshetra Trust general secretary Champat Rai should lodge defamation complaint if Digvijaya Singh failed to come forward with evidence of land scam in Ayodhya. 

One can understand the Congress party deciding to boycott the grand event, but it is sad and unfortunate that Shankaracharyas, who occupy the highest seats of Sanatan Dharma, should question the Pran-Pratistha ceremony. Adi Shankaracharya had created the four Maths in four corners of the country at the age of 32 years, in order to bind people of one culture and Dharma in a single thread. He gave the responsibility of managing these Maths to top saints who were expected to show the righteous path to society. This is a nearly 2,000-year-old tradition. Hindus across India and abroad have full respect for Shankaracharyas, who are expected to keep themselves  above personal enmities, envy, illusion (moha) and arrogance (ahankaar). They are expected to show devotees the path of salvation (moksha). They are considered the pall-bearers of Sanatan tradition. If  shankaracharyas question why Modi is consecrating the Rama idol in the temple, it does not behove their exalted position, grace or dignity. A Shankaracharya has nothing to do with election dates nor has he anything to do with which party has its government or whether the mahurat of the temple inauguration was selected in accordance with election dates. When shankaracharyas make such remarks, questions arise about the dignity and respect of entire Sant Samaj. As far as Congress is concerned, their leaders are only pandering to the egos of Shankaracharyas and are giving a political colour to their remarks. Congress has made two Shankaracharyas as pawns in the game of political chess moves. With top Congress leaders refusing to attend the ceremony, BJP has made it a big issue. Congress leaders are now trying to wriggle out, but it will not be easy. Several leaders from Congress, including Gujarat Congress leader Arjun Modhvadia, have said that the Congress high command should have avoided taking a political decision on an issue that relates to the faith of millions of Hindus in Ram. BJP leaders have said, Congress is ‘Sanatan-virodhi’ (anti-Sanatan).

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