//Tribals question RSS choice of Kumbh venue

Tribals question RSS choice of Kumbh venue

Ahwa (Gujarat) : People in this tribal Dangs district of Gujarat have questioned the selection of the venue for the ongoing Kumbh Mela, organised by two Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) affiliate bodies in memory of Shabari Mata, a tribal character from the Ramayana. Some 150,000 people, including RSS activists, devotees and saints are participating in the three-day meet that began Saturday outside a newly built Shabari temple near Subir village, about 30 km from this district headquarters.

The organisers, Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad (tribal welfare council) and Hindu Jagran Manch (Hindu resurgence forum), say the temple is built at a place where Shabari met Lord Rama – according to the Ramayana. Many villagers, however, say the organisers have got it wrong and there is an "original" Shabari temple that marks the place where the meeting took place.

Govind Pawar, the priest of another temple two kilometres away from the new one, accused the Kumbh organisers of misleading the devotees. The older temple has statues depicting the scene from Ramayana in which Shabri offers berries to Rama and his brother Laxman. It was the only Shabari temple in this tribal-majority district before the RSS affiliate organisations got the new temple built for the Kumbh. Pawar said: "We built our temple five years back. This is the original place where Rama met Shabari Mata." Pointing out a nearby hill, he said Shabari used to live there. "The meet organisers are misleading the people by choosing that new temple as venue for the Kumbh. We have never heard of Shabari’s association with that place near Subir before," Pawar told IANS.

"I went to the priest of the newly constructed temple and told him that this is the original place, but he refused to believe," said Pawar. The Kumbh organisers said the choice of venue was a matter of faith.
"A temple can come up wherever people faithfully believe it should. There are so many Pandava caves and Pandava footprints (in memory of the Pandava brothers from epic Mahabharat) all across the country," said Suresh Kulkarni, one of the organisers. Dangs residents, however, argue that there was only one Shabari temple in the district. "Govind Pawar and his disciples constructed the Shabari temple near Ahwa a few years back. There was no other temple of Shabari Mata," said Laxman Bagul from Antryamaal village. Aiming to counter Christian missionaries’ conversion activities in tribal pockets, the RSS meet began Saturday with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, popular saint Morari Bapu and other speakers criticising "forcible conversions"