William Shakespeare may have famously said, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars…” but the Madhya Pradesh government thinks otherwise.
Worried by recent tragedies at pilgrimages that have left hundreds of people dead, the MP’s BJP government led by Shivraj Singh Chouhan has constituted a team of astrologers to pacify the gods and grahas ahead of the Simhastha Kumbh mela, to be held in Ujjain between April and May next year.
The fair is celebrated once in every 12 years on the banks of river Kshipra and this year around 30 million faithful are expected to visit Ujjain for a holy dip in the river.
Since coming to power at the Centre – and in several states – the BJP government has been trying to highlight Vedic culture besides propagating Hindu scriptures as work of high science.
Critics, however, accuse the government’s policies as an attempt to replace scientific temper with myths and legends.
Avinash Lavania, Simhastha mela officer and commissioner of Ujjain Municipal Corporation confirmed the constitution of the astrologers’ team but said “it is a consultation forum for peaceful” conduct of the fair.
“The state is not funding the team in any way,” he added. Sources, however, said the government was jittery following a spate of incidents at pilgrimages including the recent tragedy at Mecca where nearly 1,500 people were crushed last month.
Earlier in August, at least 10 pilgrims were killed in Deoghar in Jharkhand while in July at least 27 people were crushed to death on the banks of the river Godavari in Andhra Pradesh during a major religious festival.
Diwakar Vasudev Natu, the president of Simhastha mela authority, said the team of nine astrologers was formed by the government to ward off the possible evil effects of ‘guru chandal yogam’, a planetary event involving Jupiter, Rahu (a rogue planet), Gulika (a satellite of Saturn) and Ketu (a shadow planet).
“The guru chandal yogam is considered inauspicious and is coinciding with the Simhastha fair. It is believed that a major tragedy might occur during this phase,” Natu added.
Pandit Anand Shankar Vyas, one of the panel members, said that “calamity might strike in the form of tremors leading to stampede, outburst of poisonous gasses, explosion, or in the form of epidemic.”
He added that while it was impossible to avoid the celestial conjunction, “we can gather strength to subdue its affects”.
Natu said starting January next year, rituals will be conducted till the commencement of the Simhastha to appease “the gods and graha nakshatras”.
Sources said the rituals are likely to incur expenses running into crores of rupees with funds likely to be routed through businessmen and religious trusts.
The state government has already allocated more than Rs 2,700 crore for improving infrastructure, security and crowd management.
Indore-based rationalist Dr DD Bandishte felt that the state should not involve itself in religious or ritualistic practices. “It should rather focus on security aspects of the fair,” he added.