As chief of the Gorakhnath Temple, Yogi Adityanath presided over a slew of rituals and pujas, recited religious texts, offering alms to the poor and feeding cows every day. He also planned and performed special ceremonies during important Hindu festivals - Navratra, Holi, Diwali, Makar Sankranti, -- and controlled a string of hospitals and educational institutions that dot eastern Uttar Pradesh.
But the newly appointed chief minister also has a mountain of responsibilities in Lucknow to pull India’s largest state out of a hole of poverty and lawlessness, and fulfil his party’s poll promises, such as make the state’s notoriously poor roads pothole free by June.
How will the 44-year-old leader balance his substantial responsibilities as a holy man with his official duties as the state’s political head? His aides at the centuries-old shrine say Adityanath will manage with ease.
“Though he has been appointed chief minister, he is trying to maintain a balance between god and government,” said his aide SP Singh.
Experts say his position as head priest gains him unprecedented respect across caste and community lines and cements his position as the flagbearer of Hindutva. “The mahanth is also considered representative of Guru Gorakhnath, who was believed to be a reincarnation of Lord Shiva,” said Kamal Nath, a priest at the temple. Adityanath wants to maintain that aura.
But it is a tough balancing act. The mahanth – or head priest – is expected to do several things every day, such as perform ritual pujas, recite from religious texts, perform yoga, meditate and perform yagnas.
He also plans the temple’s massive celebrations during all important Hindu festivals and organises various programmes to mark the birth and death anniversary of all former mahanths. During a month-long kichari festival (in January), the head priest is also expected to meet tens of thousands of devotees who throng the eastern UP town and offer grain and pulses at the temple for blessings.
Among the mahanth’s most important duties is gau sewa (cow feeding) that must be done every day. Adityanath’s aide and caretaker of the Gorakhpur temple cowshed Shiv Parsan said the CM planned to set up a mini “gaushala” in the backyard of his residence.
“He is in his office at 8am daily to meet the people and dispose of their grievances. He disposes the files related with the educational institutes and other organisations run by the mutt.”
Dwarka Tiwari, an aide of Adityanath, said the CM wakes up at 4am and performs religious rituals for four hours. “He is in his office at 8am daily to meet the people and dispose of their grievances. He disposes the files related with the educational institutes and other organisations run by the mutt. He will have no problem in handling both the duties.”
Adityanath’s first week as CM has indicated that he intended to continue juggling both duties. Despite a tight schedule in Lucknow, the CM arrived in Gorakhpur on March 25 to attend a programme organised to mark the death anniversary of Gambhir Nath, a mahanth who died before independence. Devotees at the Gorakhnath mutt raised the slogan ‘Mahanthji ki jai, chotey maharaj ki jai’ when he set foot on the mutt premises.
This massive following is crucial for the BJP if it wants to retain its stellar electoral performance in the 2019 general elections. Experts say Adityanath is aware of the gravity of both duties and wasn’t a traditional sadhu who spent their days meditating or performing puja.
“After becoming member of Lok Sabha in 1998, he made the Gorakhnath mutt a political power centre in east UP. To consolidate his position, he will play the dual role of mahanth and CM to the best of his ability,” said Harsh Sinha, a teacher at Gorakhpur University.