The Kashi Vishwanath Temple of Varanasi seems to be caught in a fight between bureaucrats and their political masters over a recent decision to impose dress code on devotees.
On Sunday (January 12), Vishal Singh, the government-nominated Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, posted as the secretary of Varanasi Development Authority, announced that devotees who wanted to enter the sanctum sanctorum of the temple for ‘sparsh darshan’ (touching the Jyotirlinga), would have to follow a new dress code.
While men would be required to wear dhoti-kurta, women have to come dressed in sarees for the special darshan. He said that any devotee who enters the temple wearing jeans, t-shirt, shirt- trousers or suit, would not be allowed inside the inner courtyard. These devotees can just see the presiding deity of Kashi Vishwanath from a distance.
Vishal Singh is an officer of the Provincial Civil Service Cadre (PCS).
When the word spread, Dr Neelkanth Tiwari, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Tourism and Culture of Uttar Pradesh, gave a statement to rubbish the claims of Vishal Singh, an official of his own government. Dr. Tiwari said no decision regarding dress code had been taken so far. He added that though a few eminent people in the city had suggested the idea, the government was yet to take this proposal up for discussion at a higher level.
This was followed by a statement from the Divisional Commissioner of Varanasi Range, Deepak Aggarwal, who distanced himself from Vishal Singh’s statement. Aggarwal said this was just a suggestion from Kashi Vidvat Parishad, an intellectual body in Varanasi, but no such proposal regarding a dress code for darshan was under consideration at the moment.
The Three-Feet rule
Last year, the temple administration had brought in a ‘three-feet’ rule. By this rule, “common” devotees were supposed to stand at the door — about three feet from the fencing — and pour the Ganga Jal (water from the Ganges) and the flowers in a bowl, which will be carried to the deity through pipes. However, VIP and VVIP devotees didn’t have to follow this rule.
While locals had protested against this rule, the authorities stuck to their guns, saying it was necessary, considering the increased security threats to the temple. Around 200 police personnel are currently deployed round the clock for security.
Is the dress code followed anywhere else?
The Mahakaleshwar temple, located in Madhya Pradesh’s Ujjain, is the only Jyotirlinga out of 12 Jyotirlingas that follows a uniform dress code – dhoti and angvastram for men and saree for women.
A Jyotirlinga is a shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva.
In July 2019, BJP leader and former union minister Uma Bharti visited the Mahakaleshwar temple clad in saffron robes. She was allowed inside the sanctorum sanctorum since she was a prominent figure. However, the priests later raised questions on her attire since she was not wearing a saree. Uma responded quickly that she would definitely wear a saree the next time she visited the temple.
Why bureaucrats and ministers are not on the same page
This incident once again highlights an important point that both senior officials and ministers haven’t yet coordinated and discussed. An officer makes tall demands only to be refuted by the minister of the respective department. The result is that the Yogi Adityanath government in the state takes a public/media beating out of such needless controversies. Had there been better coordination between the concerned officer and the minister in charge, there wouldn’t be any room for unnecessary controversies.