Rohit Bhan, NDTV.COm
Sunday, January 29, 2006 (Dangs):
The Sangh Parivar is working overtime deep inside the forest areas of the Dangs in South Gujarat, for the three-day Shabri Kumbh mela, which begins on February 11. Besides infrastructure like tents, water tanks and pipelines for the nearly five lakh people, who are expected to converge from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, the Parivar has been packaging mythology as reality.
It is trying to invoke linkages between Hindus gods and Shabri Mata, an adivasi woman in the Ramayana, who fed Lord Ram with berries.She first tasted the berries to check if they were bitter, before offering it to the Lord.
But the villagers around the area insist that prior to 1998, it was an open plot of land on which the owners used to carry out farming.
The construction work on the temple at Kangadia mal, about 30 kms from district headquarters of Ahwa, began after the attack on the churches in 1998. More than a dozen Churches were vandalised after a dharma sabha was organised by the Vanvasi Kalyan parishad.
For the last many years, the parishad has been running gurukuls and organising religious discourses in the area ostensibly to counter Christian missionaries.In fact, the plot for the temple in honour of Shabri Mata was bought from an adivasi farmer.
Interestingly, two stones, which the Bhil family worshipped as part of the tribal tradition of worshipping elements of nature, were propagated by the Hindu organisations as the ones on which Ram had tasted the berries.
Reconstructing the past
But the family, which sold the land, refuses to buy the story.
"Our family used to worship the two stones as part of our culture, but there is no truth in the story that a Shabri mata temple existed here," said Ramu Gavit, Kangadia.
The temple was just the first step to reconstruct the past, following a Ram katha by Morari Bapu in 2002. The Vanvasi Kalyan parishad and the Hindu Jagran Manch claim to have even located the Sarovar or lake, in which Shabri mata's guru Matang rishi would take a dip.
The place has now come to be known as the Pampa sarovar on whose banks the mela will be held. And now yet another temple is coming into being, where an idol of Matang rishi will be installed.
The villagers, most of whom are adivasis, are sceptical about the claims.
"They filled up this dried out sarovar with water from 28 check dams which is now being propagated by these organisations as the Pampa sarovar where the rishi used to take a holy dip," said Shivram Ganghode, Sarpanch, Bhendmal.
Given the violence of 1998, the minority Christian community is feeling insecure.
And as vehicles with pictures of Ram and Shabri are being used to spread the message of Hindu jagran, the minority community fears they may be targetted again.
The distribution of saffron flags by parishad activists asking adivasis to display them atop their houses have also multiplied fears. "We have been attacked earlier in 1998, and since we don't see any change in attitude of the Sangh Parivar we feel the Kumbh is another attempt to eliminate Christians," said Father M V Anthony, Head Subir Mission.
But the organisers of the Shabri Kumbh insist that their only agenda is Hindu awakening and there is no plan to reconvert Christians. "There is no such plan. During the Kumbh we have yagna and dharma sabha. The dharma sabhas are meant for Hindu awakening," said Suresh Kulkarni, secretary, Shabri Kumbh mela.
But as the event draws nearer, the Christian community is hoping that there is no repeat of 1998.