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PIL in SC seeks guidelines on Shravani Puja in Jharkhand temples

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A Public Interest Litigation has been filed in the Supreme Court, seeking issuance of specific guidelines and directions in respect of performance of customary Shravani Pooja and offering of Gangajal at Baba Baidyanath Jyotirlinga Temple and Baba Basukinath Temple.

The PIL has been filed by Panda Dharam Rakshini Sabha, a registered association for the Priests and Pandas of Deoghar at Baba Baidyanath Jyotirlinga Temple, through its Mahamantri (Secretary), Kartik Nath Thakur. The petition is drawn by Advocates Rit Arora and Riju Mani Talukdar.  Advocate Deepak Goel is the Advocate for the petitioner.

According to the petition, the offering of Ganga Jal to Baba Baidyanath is an ancient customary practice of Hindu religion and an essential part of the faith of crores of Hindu Devotees. Under normal circumstances, this country witnesses lakhs of devotees taking this annual pilgrimage but presently, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, public darshan is restricted.

The petitioner said he is not seeking access to the Temple by the general public, but only limited permission and direction to the authorities to allow a few Pandas, who are vaccinated and are following the Covid-19 protocol, to undertake this Kanwar Yatra, as a symbol of this ancient custom.

It was submitted in the petition that Deoghar, being geographically a part of the Santhal Parganas region of Jharkhand, has been the traditional seat of both Shaivism and Shakta sects and the Baidyanath cult. Setting aside all disputes, Deoghar has been accepted as the original seat of Baidyanath.

Baidyanath Jyotirlinga temple, also commonly referred to as the Baidyanath Dham or Babadham, is one of the 12 Jyotirlinga in India and is considered to be the most sacred abode of Lord Shiva. It is located in Deoghar in the Santhal Parganas division of the state of Jharkhand, India.

Not only this, it is only the Second Jyotirlinga, where Shaktipeeth (Baidyanath Jayadurga Shakti Peeth Deogarh) is also located.

The PIL said that it is believed that when Lord Rama went to Lanka to free Sita from the captive of Ravana and came back victorious from Lanka after defeating Ravana. After coming back from Lanka, Lord Rama did the Kanwar yatra from Sultanganj and offered gangajal at Baba Baidyanath Dham.

The importance of Baidyanath dham increases during the month of Shravan. During this period, lakhs of devotees throng the Baba Baidyanath temple. Most of them first visit Sultanganj, which is 105 km from Babadham. In Sultanganj, the Ganges flows to the North. It is from this place that the devotees collect water in their Kanwars and carry the holy Ganges water, with the Kanwars on their shoulders.

They walk 109 km up to Baba Baidyanath temple at Babadham reciting Bol Bam on the way. On reaching Babadham, the Kanwarias first take a dip in the Shivaganga to purify themselves and then enter the Baba Baidyanath temple, where the Ganges water is offered to the Jyotirlinga. This pilgrimage continues during the whole of Shravan for 30 days, during July–August. This is the longest religious fair in the world, claimed the petition.

The Petitioners mentioned that people from foreign lands also visit Babadham not only during Shravan month but also during the rest of the year. The sight on the way from Sultanganj to Babadham is of a 109 km long human chain of saffron clad pilgrims. It is estimated that within this period of one month around 50 to 55 lakhs pilgrims visit Babadham. Besides the great pilgrimage of Shrawan, almost the whole year remains under fair with Shivaratri in March, Basant Panchami in January, Bhadra Purnima in September. The annual Shravani Mela and Kanwar Yatra was organized in the holy city of Deoghar between 17.07.2019 to 15.08.2019 with millions of devotees visiting Baba Baidyanath Jyotirlinga Dham and offering their prayers and Kanwariyas offering water .

The Petition states that   Apex Court Judgement on 22.06.2020 allowed the traditional Rath Yatra at holy Jagannath Temple in Puri, Odisha in a limited way without public attendance with proper guidelines and restrictions.

On July 03 , 2020  High Court of Jharkhand held that no such direction can be issued to the State to convene the Shravani Mela in the year 2020 by allowing the public to participate. However, the Court considered the proposal of the State for on-line Darshan during the entire course of Shravani Mela and directed the State of Jharkhand through the Chief Secretary to make arrangement for On-Line Darshan of the Lord Shiva during Shravani Mela to be started from the opening day and to continue till the last day of the Mela.

On appeal the Supreme Court order dated 31.07.2020, refused permission for throwing open to public the doors of Shri Baidyanath Dham, Deoghar citing the 29.07.2020 notification of Ministry of Home Affairs prohibiting large congregations at religious places. However, noted that the restrictions imposed by the High Court for entire months of Shravan and Bhado was not proper and that it should have been left at the discretion of the State Government, if the Government can make an arrangement to permit restricted entry of the general public in the temple maintaining social distancing.

In August 2020, the government of Jharkhand passed an order allowing pilgrims to partake in Darshan at Baidyanath Jyotirlinga temple at Deoghar. As per the order, the Government allowed only the residents of the state to enter the Baidyanath Jyotirlinga temple premises for Darshan. However, the Government capped the number of persons visiting the temple and allowed only a maximum of 50 devotees to take Darshan every hour.

The Government of Jharkhand through Home, Prison & Disaster Management Department passed an order dated 30.06.2021 enforcing the lockdown restrictions in the State in terms of the order passed by the Ministry of Home Affairs dated 29.06.2021. Vide the said order, the religious places of worship were permitted to open but visitors are prohibited. In the order dated 30.06.2021, it was stated that the restriction guidelines shall be observed by all from 6 AM on 01.07.2021 till next further order.

It is submitted that no new order is passed by the Government of Jharkhand with regard to Shravani Mela & Kanwar Yatra 2021.

“The right to profess and practice one’s religion is also a fundamental right enshrined under Article 25 of the Constitution of India. Although several other commercial establishments, shops, boutiques, markets, transport, railways etc. are operating and lakhs of individuals across the country are freely travelling, placing unnecessary restrictions upon the Petitioner would not serve any purpose. Admittedly, Article 25 is subject to Public Order, Morality and Health and the Petitioner is ready and willing to abide by any such restriction which this Hon’ble Court may deem fit under the circumstances”, the Petition reads.

Also Read: SC refuses to reduce Rs 5 lakh cost imposed on Mukesh Jain, Swami Om for challenging appointment of CJI Dipak Misra

In order to avoid discrimination among general people and avoid favouritism, the temple proposes the following mechanism: 
a. 5000 entry passes will be issued by the temple board per day through the website/online portal. 
b. No other mode of issuing entry passes will be allowed. 
c. People have to apply for passes through a website/online portal . 
d.People applying would be required to submit proof that they have been administered with both doses of COVID-19 from Govt. authorized vaccination centers only. 
e. People applying would be required to submit proof that they have not been tested COVID-19 positive in the last 3 months. 
f. Persons have to undertake mandatory RT-PCR tests before visiting the temple premises g. Aadhar card will be mandatory for people applying for a pass. 
h. In order to accommodate more and more people to offer their prayer at the temple, it will be ensured (via online mechanism) that one person who has been issued a pass will only be allowed to apply for another only after 30 days .

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