Ahead of the controversial Ram Mandir inauguration in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya, the four Shankaracharyas are upset over the reduced significance granted to them in the ceremony despite being the topmost religious authorities of Hinduism in the country. They say that the consecration ceremony of Ayodhya’s Ram Mandir is not being done according to the Sanatan Dharma, and so none of them will be present in the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ ceremony.
The pushback by Shankaracharya against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s grand event has put the Hindu nationalist groups in crisis. The ambitious decades-long Hindutva campaign to raze down Babri Masjid and build Ram Mandir seems to have hit a roadblock from the most unlikely place.
Who are the Shankaracharyas?
The top four Shankaracharyas are the heads of the four major Hindu mutts (monasteries) based in Odisha, Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Gujarat. These monastic orders belong to Hinduism’s Advaita Vedenta Sampradaya tradition founded by Adi Shankara in the eighth century. These religious heads, namely Shankaracharya Swami Shri Nischalananda Saraswati of Puri, Shankaracharya Avimukteshwaranand of Jyotir Math, Shankaracharya Bharati Teerth of Sringeri and Shankaracharya Sadanand Saraswati of Dwarka, are considered as the supreme authority for interpreting the Hindu religious scriptures, particularly the Vedas.
What have they said?
On January 4, Nischalanda Saraswati, the Puri Shankaracharya, conveyed to the nation that all four Shankaracharyas will not be attending the consecration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, which is scheduled for January 22nd. He said that he is “conscious of the dignity of his position…. [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi will inaugurate the temple, he will touch the idol, then what am I supposed to do? Stand and clap?”
On Saturday, January 13, the Shankaracharya of Puri, at the Ganga Sagar Mela in West Bengal, further solidified his stance of declining the invitation to the inauguration of the temple and expressed how the consecration of a half-constructed temple flouted the scriptures. He said that political intervention in spiritual domains was not preferable and that even the Constitution was against it.
“There are rules and restrictions in the religious and spiritual domain and these rules should be followed. Interfering every area by politicians is insanity. This is also a heinous crime according to the Constitution… Overstepping these rules for propagating one’s name is an act of rebellion against god… and going down the path of destruction.”
He also emphasized the decreased significance granted to the Shankaracharyas despite their religious superiority, as they have not been allotted a position in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple and are supposed to remain outside. “This is not acceptable to me,” Saraswati added. “I do not like the prospect of watching the inauguration of Ram Temple by sitting at the event and clapping.”
Champat Rai, the head of the Ram Temple Trust, said in a recent interview that the temple fulfils the beliefs of the Ramanand sect of Hindus, and does not adhere to the Shaiva and Shakta traditions. The four Shankaracharyas belong to the Shaiva sect.
Shankaracharya Avimukteshwaranand, of Jyotir Math, Uttarakhand, hit back at Rai: “If so, then why had the trust demanded donations from us for the construction of the Ram temple and why did they accept money from us?” The Shankaracharya further asked Rai to step down as the head of the trust, as Rai too does not represent the Ramanand sect.
The Ramanand tradition was established in the 15th century by Vaishnavite devotee Ramanandi. These devotees consider Vishnu to be the supreme Hindu deity, of whom Ram is an incarnation. In contrast to the Shankaracharyas who believe the world to be an illusion, the Ramanandis consider the world as the ultimate truth and that all their karma will occur on earth.
Avimukteshwaranand, like Saraswati, emphasized that the consecration ceremony of the temple is not per the norms of the Hindu religion. “It is a Shankaracharya’s duty to follow rituals of the shastras and ensure that they are followed. And here, the shastras are being ignored. The biggest problem is that the consecration is being done when the temple is still incomplete,” he said on January 9. He clarified, “We are not anti-Modi but at the same time we also can’t go against our Dharma Shastra.”
On Friday, January 12, Sadanand Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of Dwarka, Gujarat, informed the media about his rejection of the invite for the Ram temple consecration in Ayodhya due to its relation to “anti-religious” elements and controversies. He said, “The Ram temple movement has been going on for the last 500 years, and we had wanted it (the disputed land) handed over to Hindus. We visit Ayodhya for a spiritual power that exists there…… but we fail to get that spiritual power when anti-religious elements take over such an area. The symbols of our culture should remain with spiritual people for the sake of their purity.”
He reaffirmed that all four Shankaracharyas would not be present at the consecration ceremony of the temple despite having received invitations for it, as the puja would be conducted in ignorance of the principles laid down in the Vedas.
The Shankaracharya of Sringeri, Karnataka, Bharati Teerth, has not yet clarified whether he will attend the ‘Pran-Pratishtha’ ceremony or not. However, a statement published in his official website debunked the media reports which declared his displeasure with the ceremony. “It has been noted that during such an occasion (consecration ceremony), certain ill-wishers of our Dharma have used the name of “www.dainikjagran.com” in social media to spread a post, which carries a photo of Dakshinamnaya Sringeri Sharada Peethadheeshwara, His Holiness Paramapujya Jagadguru Shankaracharya Sri Sri Bharati Tirtha Mahaswamiji and it conveys that the Sringeri Shankaracharya in a message has expressed displeasure over the pran pratishtha. This is merely a false propaganda by ill-wishers of our Dharma,” read the statement. It further said that Teerth had conveyed his blessings and asked every ‘Astika’ to attend the sacred ceremony.
Sharad Sharma, a member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) said that Ayodhya had always remained a centre of politics. He lauded the BJP for enabling the success of the Ram temple movement: “It was for political reasons only that Lord Ram was exiled. The movement for the Ram Temple was powered by the saints and seers, along with the Sangh Parivar which also includes the Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP by virtue of being a political party had its limitations and yet if you think of it, the temple is being built in Ayodhya today only because of the efforts of the BJP.”
Sharma clarified that despite the political nature of the struggle for the temple, the consecration is devoid of any political motives as being claimed by the Shankaracharyas and other political parties. He asked, “We have utmost respect for the Shankaracharya. But can someone tell me that why are 4,000 saints coming to Ayodhya from all across the country for the consecration if there is no religious meaning of it?”
In May 2014, the predecessors of Nischalananda Saraswati and Sadanand Saraswati, Puri’s Adhokshjanand Devtirath and Dwarka’s Swaroopanand had campaigned against Narendra Modi in Varanasi as he was a “sinner” in the 2002 Gujarat riots. Swaroopanand, in 2021, had raised suspicions about the trust established to enable the Ram temple’s construction. “There is not a single person in this who can perform the pran prathishtha,” he said. Post his death in 2022, the Shankaracharyas have resorted to be absent from the ceremony, with three of them directly stating their reasons.
The Congress released a statement on Wednesday, 10th January, announcing the absence of its leaders Sonia Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury in the ceremony in Ayodhya on January 22nd, alleging the political intent of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) behind it. The statement read, “Religion is a personal matter. But the RSS/BJP have long made a political project of the temple in Ayodhya. The inauguration of the incomplete temple by the leaders of the BJP and the RSS has been obviously brought forward for electoral gain.”
Congress leader Alka Lamba on Thursday criticized the BJP for rushing the inauguration ceremony of the Ram Temple, whose construction is incomplete. “Ask them (BJP), why are the Shankaracharyas not going (to attend the Pran Pratishtha ceremony). They said that the construction of Ram Mandir is incomplete, why are the BJP and PM in a hurry? Inaugurating the temple while it is under construction and politicising it; it is evident because elections are nearing,” he said.
The BJP reacted and accused the opposition party of harbouring “anti-Hindu” sentiments. Reacting to this attack, Karnataka Congress Leader Priyank Kharge said, “The four Shankaracharyas and saints are saying that the Ram temple is incomplete. Why is BJP seeking answers from Congress, but not listening to what the Shankaracharyas are saying?”
The Ram Temple in Ayodhya is being constructed on the razed Babri Masjid, the demolition of which was carried out in 1992 by Hindu vigilantes. The demolition has been time and again justified by saying that the spot is where the Hindu deity Ram was born.