Bengal to build replica of Jagannath temple; oppn says Mamata wooing Hindus
A temple, to be built for the first time by an elected government in Bengal, at a cost not yet declared, is showing early signs of a storm even before the laying of the foundation stone.
Embarking on her first major project that is not related to public utility or welfare, chief minister Mamata Banerjee is all set to construct a temple for Lord Jagannath, one of the incarnations of Vishnu. But the Trinamool Congress chief wants no ordinary structure.
Worshipped for centuries by Hindus as one of the Char Dhams (four abodes) of Lord Vishnu, the Jagannath temple at Puri in Odisha will have a replica 344 km away; at Digha in Bengal’s East Midnapore district.
Visit of the Char Dhams, located in four corners of India, ensures ‘moksha’ or salvation, Hindus believe. The other three are at Badrinath, Dwarka and Rameswaram. Digha and Puri are both beach towns by the Bay of Bengal and draw people by the millions. Banerjee says her temple is part of an ambitious tourism project and hence will be built by the government.
Opposition parties and intellectuals are not buying Banerjee’s argument. They are accusing her of trying to woo Hindu voters who supported the Bharatiya Janata Party in large numbers in the recent Lok Sabha polls, ensuring the party’s victory in 18 of the state’s 42 seats.
“After appeasing Muslims for years, Mamata Banerjee is building the temple to fulfil her obligation towards Hindus. Money from government exchequer cannot be spent to build places of worship,” Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh said on Sunday.
Last week, Banerjee visited East Midnapore to hold administrative review meetings. On August 20, she visited Digha and offered prayers at a small temple where the proposed temple complex will come up. Banerjee went through the plans and asked officers and ministers accompanying her to start the work immediately and complete the project in two years.
“The state government has acquired two acres. This is a tourism project. Millions come to Digha to spend holidays. Tourists will find a place to offer prayers as well. The temple should be of the same height as the one in Puri. Unlike the Puri temple we have more open space. So, we will have a gateway and green zone,” Banerjee told officers and reporters present at the spot.
“The construction will start soon,” said Partha Ghosh, district magistrate, East Midnapore.
The chief minister, however, did not specify the budget. “The budget will be decided by the administration. I want the job done well. It should be aesthetically appealing,” she said.
“The budget will go up since the plan has been amended. Tenders will be floated soon,” a senior state government official said on Tuesday on condition of anonymity.
Building a replica of the Jagannath temple has not gone down well with many Bengalis. For a sizeable section of people, a trip to Puri is not just an escape from daily life but also a pilgrimage since the town also houses the Govardhan Math, one of the four monasteries founded by the eighth century monk Adi Shankaracharya who consolidated the knowledge of the four Vedas.
In his social media post, professor Indraneel Dasgupta of the Indian Statistical Institute, an alumnus of the University of California, has written: “Now Mamata Banerjee wants to set up a Jagannath Temple in Digha to rival the one in Puri. Seriously? This is every bit as heretical a proposal as building another Notre Dame Cathedral bang in the middle of Las Vegas. Is nothing sacred any more?”
Dilip Ghosh visited East Midnapore district over the weekend to supervise his party’s membership drive. He blasted the temple project. “While appeasing Muslims the chief minister distanced herself from the vote bank. Now she wants to appease Hindus. Temples must be built but not with government funds,” he said.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) has also taken a dig at the chief minister. “Sentiments associated with the Jagannath temple binds Hindus across the globe. Mamata Banerjee’s temple can neither replace the original, nor become a distant alternative. A government starts building temples when it fails in every way to reach out to the masses,” said CPI(M) politburo member Md Salim.