‘Secular’ din over PM temple prayer

New Delhi :  The Lok Sabha was adjourned twice on Tuesday amid ruckus over Prime Minister Narendra Modi offering prayers at the Pashupatinath Temple during his two-day official visit to Nepal.

Referring to the incident, Sudip Bandopadhyay of the Trinamool Congress pointed out that while they appreciated the prime minister offering prayers at the temple, it was equally expected of him that that he would offer Eid greetings to the other community.

A Congress member, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, pointed out that the Prime Minister had deviated from a time-honoured practice since Independence by not hosting Iftaar this Ramzaan. ‘‘Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee had continued with this tradition but what has happened now,” Chowdhury, a former Union Minister, demanded.

During shouts and protests from the ruling benches against Bandopadhyay’s dig at Modi, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu was heard saying that the Prime Minister had offered Eid greetings that were widely published, adding that “the government believes in the unity of all religions.”

Modi is the first top dignitary to be accorded the privilege of offering special puja inside the Pashupatinath temple since the abolition of monarchy in the erstwhile Himalayan kingdom in 2008.

Prior to this, the privilege was only that of the Nepal royals of the then ruling Shah dynasty. Walking barefoot and dressed in saffron, Modi spent around 45 minutes inside the temple on the banks of the Bagmati river.

There is a rare silver-covered Shiva Lingam inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.  Commoners are allowed to venerate the Shiva Lingam only from outside the door of the sanctum sanctorum.  The decision to allow Modi to worship the Shiva Lingam was taken at the highest political level. Only the ruling kings of Nepal could perform the special puja in this manner. The mattress on which Modi sat was placed between two silver sidebars. Nobody, except the priests, is allowed to touch the four-headed Shiva Lingam inside the temple.

As promised, after the visit, Modi handed over 2,500 kg of sandalwood worth Rs.20 million (over $320,260) and announced an assistance of Rs.150 million for building a 400-bed dharmasala within the temple precincts.

Though export of sandalwood has been banned by the Indian government, it made an exception by providing this holy timber to the temple authorities as it is an integral part of the rituals in Pashupatinath temple.

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