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Don allow meddling with Vaishno Devi shrine - Tribune

Jagmohan ()
September 9, 1998

Title: Don allow meddling with Vaishno Devi shrine
Author: Jagmohan
Publication: Tribune
Date: September 9, 1998

The tragedy of present-day India is that it has developed
clogged and corroded mind in which an elevating breeze can
hardly blow in. It has become virtually incapable of doing any
creative and constructive thinking and translating such a
thinking into solid action on the ground. And, what is equally
tragic, whenever in rare cases, original and deep thinking is
done and followed by determined work at the field level, forces
of negativism and nihilism appear on the scene and, sooner or
later, that work.

This proposition of mine gets reinforced by the shocking news
that a few vested interests of Jammu & Katra are out to ruin the
great edifice of reform which was so creatively conceived and so
determinedly built at the Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine complex, and
which had won the heart-felt admiration and gratitude of
millions of the Mata's devotees from all over the country and
abroad. These interest have floated a proposal, in total
violation of the underlying objectives of the reform as well as
in total violation of both the letter and spirit of the Supreme
Court judgement in the case, to bring in some persons from the
backdoor into the affairs of the shrine and siphon off a huge
sun of money from the shrine on a permanent basis. To attain
their ends, an amendment to the Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Act is
intended to be carried out and a Cabinet sub-committee has been
constituted for the purpose.

The pernicious move must be scotched before it acquires wings.
All well-wishers of the country in general and the Mata's
devotees in particular must get together and show their united
will and power - their true hakti=94. They must remember that
he only thing necessary for triumph of evil is for good men to
do nothing.

Let me recount the events to the celebrated reform of the Mata's
shrine. Its underlying motivation and its many directional
implications.

The shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi, which is really a natural cave-
temple, is located in the Trikuta hills, about 45 km from Jammu.
The nearest town is Katra from the base of which the devotees
have climb to a height of about 600 ft. The unique sanctity of
the holy cave lies in the existence of three pindis; Moortis,
which represent all the three shaktis - Maha Saraswati, goddess
of intellect; Mata Laxmi, goddess of wealth; and Maha Kali,
goddess of recreation.

Pilgrimage to distant holy places in the hills is an important
part of Indian tradition. In the ancient period, yatris
invariably encountered a charming environment - the air was
exhilarating, forests thick and green, and streams full of
crystal-clear water. The spell that nature cast on the yatri's
mind brought in peace, and created within him a new rhythm; a
new spirit.

The state of the Vaishno Devi yatra, before the introduction of
the reform, through the promulgation of the Mata Vaishno Devi
Shrine Act, 1986 was deplorable. It was a soul-depressing and
not a soul-lifting experience. It was an encounter not with
exhilarating air but foul stench; not with thick and green
forests but a ravaged landscape; not with crystal-clear water of
the Banganga but with desolate bed of a drain. Worse, it was not
being face to face with the spirit of the great souls and great
seekers of the truth, but with the motivation of manipulators,
ignorant and closed minds who, though spiritually blind, carried
torched in their hands for the uidance of others. It was
superficial, soul-less, action-less and deed-less India at its
worst - an India which had been sucked of its real values and in
which the people had lost the capacity to e good and do good=94.

After my first journey, as Governor of the state, from Katra to
Vaishno Devi in 1985, I was impelled to record: hereas I was
much impressed by the halos of moortis and unflinching faith of
the devotees, I was shocked by the material and moral
corruption. If anyone wanted to see the degeneration of our
society, one has just to walk from Katra to the Vaishno Devi
cave. One would get the impression, not of a wounded
civilisation but of a society stricken with terminal illness.
Obviously, in such a cultural wasteland, spirituality was
stifled and faith undermined.

I took, within myself, a silent decision. If opportunity came my
way I would undertake a radical reform with regard to the
management and improvement of the shrine and its complex,
formidable obstacles notwithstanding. I had a number of
objectives in view. I wanted to remove the awful insanitary
conditions, rid the shrine of the control of obscurantists,
prevent the misuse of offerings and instead utilise them for
creating environmental conditions in which the soul-lifting
traditions of pilgrimage of ancient times could come alive. I
also wanted to bring out the humanistic aspects of religion and
demonstrate that reformed Hinduism and reformed social and
environmental order cold be the two sides of the same coin.

Fortunately, I got the opportunity in 1986, when Governor's Rule
was imposed in the state under Section 92 of the Jammu & Kashmir
Constitution. Making use of my legislative powers, I enacted, in
August 1986, a law under which a totally autonomous board known
as the Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, with the Governor as
chairman, was set up. The entire management of the shrine and
the complex around it was vested in this board. All the offering
and donations were deposited into the funds of the board from
which they were spent on humanitarian and development schemes.

Rapid improvement was carried out with the board funds. In a
short time, the entire 14-km route was widened, made pucca,
tiled and lighted with about 1,000 sodium vapour lamps. More
than 10 lakh tiles were used for the route, about 5,000 parapet
walls constructed, about 2,000 metres of railings installed at
dangerous points 26 shelter-cum-cafeteria units set up and all
modern sanitary facilities, including thousands of flush
latrines, vacuum cleaners, fogging machines and brooms provided.

Now, the Vaishno Devi Shrine has become, in its own way, a
practical manifestation of the reformative spirit, a symbol of
religious, social and cultural advancement, and also a model of
creativity and dynamism in administration. There is nothing to
make the visit jarring or nauseating as it was before. There are
no beggars or lepers, no self-appointed custodians of the shrine
complex to cause harassment, no exploitation, no disease arising
out of insanitary conditions and unhygienic food and no unclean
water or stinking latrines or stray cattle or dogs. On the other
hand, Rs 5 crore to Rs 7 crore of shrine funds are being
invested annually for economic and environment upgradation of
life in the region. The number of pilgrims has increased from
about 4 lakh to 44 lakh per annum.

The spectacular improvement thrilled the yatri and the general
public. They have indeed become the most enthusiastic supporters
of reforms. On account of the public mood, the Dharmarti, which
had gone to the high court against my decision, withdrew its
petition. However, some Baridars persisted with the litigation
and the matter finally reached the Supreme Court. The court
upheld the constitutional validity of the Mata Vaishno Devi
Shrine Act and ruled: he supervision permitted in the Act is
to ensure proper, efficient, effective and responsible
administration and management of the shrine and its properties.
With regard to the compensation to be paid to Baridars on
account of their rights having been forfeited under the Act, the
court made it clear that, as laid down under the said Act, the
compensation had to be paid on the recommendations of the
tribunal, keeping in view the guidelines framed by the Governor.
Accordingly, the tribunal made appropriate recommendations and
the Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board accepted the same. A part of
the compensation has already been disbursed.

Where, then, is the need for amending the Mata Vaishno Devi
Shrine Act, 1986, and why should Baridars be brought in again
and given one-third of the offerings at the shrine?

Clearly, the move is not at all bona fide and there is something
more than meets the eye. It contains poisonous seeds which would
destroy the entire green pasture of the reform. It must be
resisted and, if necessary, an all-India agitation built for the
purpose.

It may be added that Hindu has an innate desire to visit at
least a few of the hundreds of holy rivers, cities, temples and
caves mentioned by sage Pulasty in the Mahabharata. For example,
when Sankara travelled from a small village in Kerala to what is
now known as Shankaracharya Hill in Srinagar, or when Swami
Vivekananda undertook an arduous journey to the cave of Amarnath
in the higher ranges of Himalayas, he not only fulfilled a part
of his mission to rejuvenate Hinduism but also satisfied his
inner urge to be pward and divine It has been rightly
observed: he number of Hindu sanctuaries in India is so large
that the whole of the country can be regarded as a vast sacred
space organised into a system of pilgrimage centre and their
fields=94. It is this vast sacred space that today stand totally
neglected in India. Most of the holy rivers are now nothing but
stinking sewers, cities nothing but centres of urban chaos and
temples nothing but places that near both physical and mental
slums.

The Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine has emerged as a shining example
and an outstanding exception to the general state of neglect of
places of pilgrimage. Let this exception be not mutilated. Let
it not be said by the posterity that our generation was nothing
but a set of small people - selfish, intriguing and brutish,
with no sense of national pride and respect for cultural
heritage.

(The writer is an MP and former Governor of Jammu & Kashmir)


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