Oil for cooking from Yogi Adityanath’s grand Ayodhya Deepotsav?
Women and children were seen collecting oil used to light earthen lamps in Ayodhya, with a woman claiming the oil would help her cook for 6-7 months
The Diwali-eve Deepotsav in Ayodhya has run into some adverse publicity, with video clips of mostly women and children from poorer backgrounds collecting residual oil from lamps which had flickered out. Some of them claimed to have come from Bahraich, 116 km away.
Even as a few policemen and volunteers tried to shoo them away, the undeterred women retreated to return to the same or other ghats. “We are poor and cannot afford to buy oil; the oil that we collect here every year helps us cook for months, sometimes for as many as six to eight months,” claimed a woman while speaking to a Mooknayak correspondent.
"Policemen have no right to hit women," exclaimed Shobha Devi from Ayodhya before complaining that policemen were beating them up with their lathis or sticks. "They would rather dump the residual oil in the river, but will not allow the poor to collect them," she complained.
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A woman from Bahraich told the portal that she and several other fellow villagers had been visiting Deepotsav for the last three years in the hope of collecting the residual oil. A ration-card holder, she admitted that she collected her quota of free ration but argued that she could not afford to buy oil all the time. The oil collected from the lamps, she claimed, was used for cooking and depending on the quantity, lasted her between six and eight months.
The visuals of the women and children collecting oil went viral, especially one in which a policeman in uniform is seen asking a woman to leave, prompting some people to question the extravaganza. Some snidely asked if the mustard oil was supplied by the Adani Group.
Others were upset at the visuals stoking a needless controversy. Some of them accused the women of stealing the oil which, they said, would be sold to food stalls run on sidewalks. A few pointed out that the wicks were soaked in sesame oil and camphor and hence the oil from the burnt lamps could not possibly be used for cooking. Some smelled a conspiracy to defame the Uttar Pradesh government and the Hindu religion.
Some pointed out that Deepotsav generated custom for potters and employment for others.
This year, the UP government’s Deepotsav in the temple town of Ayodhya was held on 11 November with 88 diplomats from 54 countries in attendance, announced a satisfied chief minister Yogi Adityanath. The spectacle, in its seventh year, spared neither effort, time nor expense, with laser shows, musical soirees, plays and dances entertaining people on Diwali-eve. An added attraction was Ramleela performed by artists from Sri Lanka, Nepal and Russia.
While the festival had a modest beginning in 2017, it has grown over the years. The number of lamps has increased every year too, from 4 lakh in 2019 to 6 lakh in 2020 and 9 lakh in 2021, when the first attempt was made to set a Guinness record for lighting the highest number of lamps at the same time.
While the state government pays for the earthen lamps (at Rs 1 to Rs 1.50 apiece), the wicks and mustard oil, besides sesame oil and camphor in which the wicks are soaked, volunteers to light the lamps are mobilised by Ram Manohar Lohia Avadh University.
It is anybody’s guess how many lamps will be lit in January 2024, when the Ram temple is inaugurated, but there are enough indications that the extravaganza will cost a fortune. There are also indications that the huge event, being organised on paper by the temple trust, may continue for weeks, possibly right up to the general elections scheduled for April-May 2024.
The question whether the money could have been better spent is unlikely to bother too many souls.