Hindu religious bodies protest government interference in Nashik

Hindu priests at loggerheads with govt over Goda Aarti in Nashik; in pushback against interference threaten to take law into their own hands

The Maharashtra govt has formed a committee to oversee the aartis, causing outrage among devotees, Sadhus, Mahants, and other religious figures.   (photo: @CMOMaharashtra/X)
The Maharashtra govt has formed a committee to oversee the aartis, causing outrage among devotees, Sadhus, Mahants, and other religious figures. (photo: @CMOMaharashtra/X)

Surekha More

After the Shankaracharyas faulted the current regime for holding a Pran Pratishthan at an incomplete temple, which they said was against the shastras, there is another pushback by religious bodies in Nashik. 

Unbeknownst to most people even outside the immediate vicinity of this temple town, Hindu Sants, mahants, pandits, purohits and other religious people are preparing to march through town in protest against the BJP-led government in Maharashtra muscling their way into the performance of the daily aartis on the banks of the holy Godavari river that runs through this town.

Goda Aarti has generally been the domain of the Purohit Sangh and these priests have been performing this ritual for centuries. But now the government has set up a Godavari Ram Tirth Seva Samiti and plans to wrest the conduct of the aartis from the Purohit Sangh.

An outraged religious and civic community comprising devotees, Sadhus, Mahants and others took the unprecedented step of organizing a Gram Sabha on the banks of the river at Goda ghat and were joined by residents of Panchvati, sarvajanik mandals, several other religious organisations and practically all the sans, mahants and akharas in town threatening to march on Nashik on Saturday and take the law into their hands if the government did not desist.

Mahant Ramkishordas Shastri of Digambar Akhara presided over the Gram Sabha. Mahant Bhakti Charandas Maharaj, Mahant Ramsanehi Das Maharaj, Mahant Pitambardas Maharaj, Mahant Rajaram Das Maharaj, Mahant Santokdas Maharaj, Brahmachari Maharaj of Kailas Math, Mahant Sudhir Pujari, Mahant Ramtirtha Maharaj, Mahavrat Swami Someswaranand Maharaj, were present along with a  few representatives of various opposition parties to emphasize the fact that  that it is  the local priests and the Ganga Godavari Purohit Sangh that have been performing the religious rituals of Godavari Nitya Seva, Aarti, Naivadyam and  Godavari Janmotsav from time immemorial. They will brook no government interference in the same, they stressed.

The Gram Sabha demanded an audit of the money spent by the government  during an earlier attempt to muscle its way into the Aarti and demanded of deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis that his government desist from taking over religious rituals. While the Purohit Sangh is now planning to file a petition in court for legal recourse against government interference, they have made no bones that the Rs 11 crore allotted to the committee is an ingenuous  way of siphoning off funds and bringing financial corruption into an age old tradition.

Slightly unnerved at the resistance the government attempted to co-opt some priests on to the committee but these holy men have  quit the committee, maintaining that they will neither brook interference, nor be part of the government's  corrupt activities. 

A resolution to dismiss the  committee was unanimously passed in the Gram Sabha which held that not the government but the Ganga Godavari Panchkothi Purohit Sangh and the priestly team should organise the daily evening aartis along with the Sadhus, Mahants, and representatives of religious as well social organisations. 

It was state Cultural Affairs Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, under the pretext of boosting religious tourism, who had sanctioned a fund of Rs 11.77 crore for the Goda Aarti, to be held on the lines of Ganga Aarti in Benares.  But the Purohit Sangh has alleged that the committee was formed by those who have no right to make religious decisions for their own political interests.

They alleged that the Sadhus and Mahants of major Akharas were deliberately left out of this committee. In places like Ujjain and Haridwar, the Aarti is performed by a committee of Purohits. Thus, Sadhus and Mahants of various Akharas in Nashik will resist  strongly if the Goda Aarti performance is taken out of the hands  the Purohit Sangh, they said.

Last week, when Mungantiwar visited Nashik, he directed the Public Works Department to submit a proposal, according to which the Cultural Affairs Department sanctioned Rs 56 crore for the aarti on 19 February.

But as  this proposal is likely to get violate e code of conduct, Mungantiwar has instructed the Public Works Department to prepare an urgent fund proposal of up to Rs 10 crores so that the issue can be resolved immediately and the Goda Aarti can start soon. Accordingly, in a meeting held in Mumbai on Tuesday Mungantiwar approved a fund of Rs 11.77 crore. 

Meanwhile, environmentalists in the city have expressed tha the Godavari Aarti should be be done, but before that, the river should be de-polluted and concretisation at the bottoms of RamKund should be removed first. Instead of a token  Aarti, the river needs clean and pure water first. 

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