Weeks after flash floods caused extensive damage to the Kedarnath temple, lack of security in the temple has now left its priceless idols and artifacts exposed to the risks of theft and smuggling.
Instead of providing security, the Uttarakhand police and other security agencies have put their faith in the inhospitable terrain and the inherent honesty of the local people to safeguard this priceless heritage
The shrine, according to lore, was made by the Pandavas and was renovated in the eighth century by Adiguru Shankaracharya. Many scientists, meanwhile, believe that the temple was constructed much earlier and studies have shown that it was built around 3000 years ago.
It houses artifacts of immense archaeological value including stone idols of the five Pandavas, idols of other deities, a copper Nandi and silver ornaments including a chattar (canopy) weighing 150kg – all lying unguarded at present.
“Thieves will not be able to reach the temple because of hostile terrain and bad weather. People can reach the shrine only through helicopters so there is no danger of any theft,” they say.
This is despite the fact that many teams from news channels have reached Kedarnath taking the same route.
Police also claim that local people will not dare steal anything from the temple premises for fear of earning the wrath of gods. They believe that the concept of ‘paap-punya’ is ingrained in the people living in the area.
Authorities also suggest that idols are extremely heavy and thieves will find removing and transporting them very difficult at high altitudes.
Authorities’ faith seems misplaced despite reports of thefts that have already been reported from the temple in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Donation boxes were found ransacked inside the temple and there were reports of jewellery being stolen from the hands and feet of corpses.
A sadhu was nabbed with Rs. 89 lakh while some Nepali labourers were accused of vandalism.
Chandra Kishore Maithani, member, Badri Kedar Temple Committee, which manages the two shrines of Badrinath and Kedarnath, says the combined earning of both temples is close to Rs. 19 crore each year.
The earnings are deposited in a State Bank of India branch which was ransacked as thieves could reach the submerged vault after the devastation.
Maithani says that the idols inside the temple are priceless and will not be stolen as any thief will meet a certain death because the 11th Jyotirlinga of Lord Shiva holds tremendous divine powers.
The state agriculture minister, Harak Singh Rawat, who visited the shrine after the tragedy, maintains security of the idols is paramount.
“At the time of my visit, some policemen and NDRF personnel were present at Ghoda Padao, which is 200 metres away from the shrine,” he said.
However, more extensive security arrangements need to be made, he says
Amit Sinha, deputy Inspector general (Garhwal range), admits that there is proof that parts of the shrine have been dug and efforts have been made to remove an idol from inside the temple.
“I am not sure if this was done by the temple committee as part of its attempt to shift an idol or was a robbery attempt”.
Sinha said the focus at present is on cremating the dead and sanitizing the area. He also insisted that it is difficult for an idol smuggler to reach the site and remove the heavy idols at this altitude and conditions.
“Check points have been established on roads to Rishikesh to check smuggling activities. Meanwhile, the local populace will never think of thievery at the shrine as they hold the temple in high regard.”