Temple chariot gutted in fire in Andhra’s Antarvedi, protests follow
The burning of a 62-year-old chariot on the premises of famous Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple at Antarvedi in Andhra Pradesh’s East Godavari district on Sunday has triggered unrest from Hindu religious groups across the state.
Antarvedi is one of the most revered Vaishnavite religious centres in Andhra Pradesh. The chariot, made of teakwood and used during the procession of the Lord in festive seasons, was burnt to ashes in the early hours of Sunday. The closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras installed near the chariot did not function.
On Tuesday, hundreds of activists belonging to various Hindu groups, including Vishva Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Haindava Sakthi, Hindu Chaitanya Vedika and Dharmaveer Adhyatmik Vedika, etc, stormed the temple located at the confluence of River Godavari.
Raising “Jai Sriram” slogans, these activists jumped over the barricades put up at a distance from the temple by the police to prevent untoward incidents. The activists lay siege to the temple demanding that the government order a judicial inquiry into the burning of the chariot allegedly by some miscreants.
Alleging that there was a deep-rooted conspiracy behind the burning of chariot, the Hindu activists tried to gherao endowments minister Vellampalli Srinivas, social welfare minister P Viswaroop and BC welfare minister Chelluboina Venugopala Krishna were inspecting the spot where the chariot was burnt. The ministers were whisked away by the police.
The endowments minister told reporters that the government had taken serious note of the incident and ordered an in-depth departmental inquiry. “We have already transferred temple executive officer N V S Chakradhar Rao and suspended a couple of other temple employees for their alleged negligence,” he said.
Stating that the government would take steps to prevent recurrence of such incidents, Srinivas suspected that a conspiracy was going on against the Jagan Mohan Reddy government and it would be foiled.
The minister promised that a new chariot would be readied at a cost of Rs 93 lakh before the Lord’s celestial festival in February.
BJP Andhra Pradesh president Somu Veerraju said the Antarvedi incident had badly hurt the sentiments of the Hindus. “Ever since YS Jagan Mohan Reddy came to power, there have been attacks on various temples, causing a lot of anguish among the Hindus,” he said.
Stating that there was an attempt to wipe out Hindutva in the state, Veerraju demanded that the government act sternly against those accused in the incident. “Otherwise, the BJP will have to take a tough stand against the YSRCP government in Andhra,” he warned.
Telugu Desam Party president N Chandrababu Naidu and Jana Sena Party chief Pawan Kalyan also denounced the Antarvedi incident.
Several Hindu seers like Kamalananda Bharati, Swaroopanandendra Saraswati, Dr CS Rangarajan of Chilkur Balaji temple in Hyderabad condemned the burning of the chariot at Antarvedi. They alleged that the government was giving lame excuses whenever there was an attack on Hindu places of worship.
“Last time when a chariot was damaged in Nellore district, police said some mentally unstable persons had done it. Now, they are saying a short circuit is the reason. But there is an organised attempt to attack the Hindu temples in Andhra Pradesh,” Rangarajan said.
Seer of Visakhapatnam Sri Sarada Peetham, Swaroopanandendra Saraswati, described the fire accident as unfortunate. He said it was a matter of sentiment for Hindus. He demanded a probe to identify the reasons for it and punish the guilty.
Meanwhile, the state police set up five special teams to conduct a thorough probe into the incident. The teams are functioning under the aegis of Eluru range deputy inspector general of police K V Mohan Rao, East Godavari district superintendent of police Nayeem Asmi and forensic inspector general Rajendra Sen.
Initial investigations revealed that some miscreants set fire to the dried palm tree leaves covering the chariot to drive away honey bees which formed a hive above the chariot. “However, there are no fire safety measures in the temple and there was not even a watchman to oversee the temple protection,” an official familiar with the development said.
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