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Defying ASI protocols, right-wing group trespasses into Kashmir’s Sun Temple, holds rituals

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The ASI guidelines explicitly prohibit religious ceremonies inside Martand Sun Temple

Despite objections from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), a far-right Hindutva group from Rajasthan forcefully entered the premises of Martand Sun Temple in Anantnag’s Rambirpora Mattan area, Kashmir.

The incident took place the same day as the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ ceremony at the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, January 22, as per reports.

The group, which had travelled from Rajasthan’s Bharatpur, left after unfurling a saffron flag and doing a parikrama (circumambulation) of the ASI-protected Martand Sun Temple while chanting the Hanuman Chalisa.

As per ASI, when the group forced its way into the temple, a local ASI staff tried to prevent their entry but failed. However, he then ensured not to allow them to sit anywhere inside the protected ruins of the 8th-century temple.

As per the reports, ever since ASI took charge, the Martand Sun Temple has been protected by ASI guidelines that prohibit prayers inside such sites unless they are functional prayer sites. This marked the third consecutive attempt of the group identified as Rashtriya Anhad Mahayog Peeth since 2022

Sites of any religion — mosques, temples, churches, etc — 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. Hence, when the body took charge of the Sun Temple, no prayer was allowed at the historic place of worship that is in ruins. 

The ASI-protected temple in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district is deemed a “monument of national importance” (it gained attention especially after it provided the backdrop to some scenes of the Bollywood film ‘Haider). It faced a challenge in 2022 as a 100-member group held prayers to mark the day of the arrival of Adi Sankara in Kashmir. Saffron flags and the Tricolour were reportedly displayed during the event, for about a part of the day. 

Just two days later, J&K Lieutenant-Governor Manoj Sinha participated in a separate ‘Navgrah Ashtamangalam pooja’ at the temple, allegedly accompanied by saints and residents. The elaborate ceremony led to an ASI complaint to the district administration, citing a violation of the central government body’s rules regarding the preservation of the historical site.

In April 2023, the same ‘Rashtriya Anhad Mahayog Peeth’ had attempted to overturn this rule to perform ‘puja’, but were disallowed from entering,  They were reportedly detained at a Shiva temple at Mattan, near Martand, a functioning place of worship, and not allowed to proceed further. The contingent dropped the plan, after writing letters of protest to various functionaries of the government.

This year too, the group offered prayers at the Shiv temple at Mattan, and later proceeded to Martand, forcing their way into the temple.

The group leader, Maharaj Rudranath Mahakal reportedly said, “Prime Minister Modi had said that all temples should hold prayers and mark the occasion like Deepavali, which is what we wanted to do in all the temples of Kashmir.”

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