Despite ASI attempts, saffron outfit once again forces entry into J&K Martand sun temple
Local ASI staff attempted to stop the entry, but were unable to protect the ruins of the eighth-century temple in Mattan, Anantnag
Members of a little-known Hindutva group forced their way into the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)-protected Martand sun temple in southern Kashmir’s Anantnag to hold prayers on 22 January, the same day as the consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.
The local ASI staff attempted to stop their entry, but were unable to prevent the members from squatting within the protected ruins of the eighth-century temple in Mattan, which was built by Lalitaditya Muktapida of the Karkota dynasty.
Members of the group unfurled a saffron flag after completing a circumambulation of the temple, while chanting the Hanuman Chalisa. This was the third consecutive year that the group, Rashtriya Anhad Mahayog Peeth, has made an attempt to hold prayers in the historic temple complex.
This year, the group's leader Maharaj Rudranath Mahakal said their visit was timed with the inauguration of the temple in Ayodhya. “Prime Minister Modi had said all temples should hold prayers and observe Deepavali on the occasion, which is what we wanted to do in all the temples of Kashmir,” Rudranath said. “We made our way with determination to the garbh griha (sanctum sanctorum), where we unfurled Ramji ka dhwaj (Ram's flag) as well as sang two Ram stutis (songs of praise),” he said.
This is not the first time that prayers have been held at the protected site. In 2022, a 100-strong contingent of the same group held prayers in the temple to commemorate the arrival of Adi Shankaracharya in Kashmir. In 2023, when the Rajasthan-based Hindu outfit returned in April to perform puja once again, it was prevented from entering the temple complex.
In May 2022, a religious event was chaired by J&K lieutenant-governor Manoj Sinha, with the ASI denying it had issued any permission to hold prayers in the core protected area on the premises. Sinha had participated in a navagraha ashtamangalam puja at the ancient sun temple.
The ASI officials had said the department was informed about the LG’s visit but “no permission was sought for puja” at the protected site. The ASI does not allow religious events at protected monuments except any customary prayers being held prior to the ASI's take over.
According to ASI guidelines, temples, mosques or sites of any other religion under the protection of the ASI are not open for prayers unless these were functioning places of worship at the time they came under the central archaeological body’s protection.
The ruins of the temple have been protected by the ASI through decades of militancy since the 1990s, as a “monument of national importance”. The complex attracts tourists of all faiths, especially after it provided the imposing backdrop to some scenes of the 2014 Hindi film Haider.