A temple in Odisha's Ganjam district that Mahatma Gandhi would have approved

This renovated temple in Odisha’s Ganjam blends ideas of Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda and stands out for being inclusive

A temple in Odisha's Ganjam district that Mahatma Gandhi would have approved

SN Sahu

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has stood out for allocating resources to not only renovate temples but several mosques and churches in Odisha. When the FCRA for Missionaries of Charity (MOC) was not renewed by the Union Home Ministry, Patnaik released funds from the Chief minister’s Relief Fund to the MOC units operating in Odisha so that their service to the poor and the deprived could continue unhindered.

On 18th May, 2022, Patnaik participated in the Pratistha Mahotsav at a modern temple structure of goddess Tara Tarini in Ganjam and prayed for harmony, peace, and well-being of all people. Located on the Kumari Hills, the state government has installed a ropeway for the visitors and renovated the temple, which draws devotees from all castes and all faiths, into a modern temple.

A meditation centre and library under construction within the temple is evocative of Swami Vivekananda’s vision and modelled after Ramakrishna Mission Ashrams with a hall for meditation and a library located close to it. The Chief Minister also dedicated a Prasad Sevan hall, Interpretation Centre and Food kiosks. The revamped temple structure showcases the acclaimed sculpture and architecture of Odisha.

Mahatma Gandhi in an article “Model Temple” published in the Harijan on 29th April, 1933, wrote on his idea of a temple. He wrote, “It (temple) must be … extensive... it need not be in the heart of a village or a city. It should be easily accessible to the Harijans and the other poor and yet it must not be in insanitary surroundings. If possible, it should be higher than its surroundings. In any case, I would aim at making the plinth of the actual temple as high as possible. And on this site, I should select my plot for daily worship. Round this will come into being a school, a dispensary, a library, secular and religious. The school may serve also as a meeting or debating hall. I should have a dharmsala or guest house connected with the temple.

“Each one of these will be a separate institution and yet subordinate to the temple and may be built simultaneously or one after another as circumstances and funds may permit,” he wrote.

“The buildings may or may not be substantial. If labour is voluntary, as it well may be, with mud and straw a beginning may be made at once. But the temple is not yet built. The foundation was laid when the site was procured, the plot for the temple was selected and the first prayer was offered. For the Bhagavata says, “Wherever people meet and utter His name from their hearts, there God dwells, there is His temple,” the Mahatma added.

The Tara Tarini shrine and its modern structure have several features which are in tune with his vision. It is a temple located far away from human habitation and it is located at a high altitude. Its surroundings are clean and people regardless of their castes have access to it. Now its new architecture has provision for a library, meditation centre and other modern facilities.

The temple priest, Gandhi wrote, who is the link between people and deity. Gandhi wrote that a priest of his model temple while being well versed with scriptures, should be a friend and guide to the people visiting the shrine. He wrote, “My ideal priest must be a man of God. He must be a true servant of the people. He should have the qualifications of a guide, friend and philosopher to those among whom he is officiating. He must be a whole-timer with the least possible needs and personal ties. He should be versed in the shastras. His whole concern will be to look after the welfare of his people.” Odisha Government and Naveen Patnaik deserve our gratitude for restoring to some extent the vision of Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi in this remarkable temple.

The then Collector of Ganjam, V Karithikeyan Pandian and presently the 5 T secretary was instrumental behind the success of the project. Arun Panda, the then Divisional Commissioner of southern region played a key role in initiating the project. The present Collector of Ganjam Vijay Amruta Kulange, helped complete the project. The spirit embodied in this gigantic task, it is hoped, would resonate and defeat the divisive and polarising narratives threatening the idea of India.

(S.N. Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India K.R. Narayanan)

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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Published: 28 May 2022, 10:00 AM