Nistula Hebbar / New Delhi March 20, 2006
Blasts at Varanasi’s Sankat Mochan Temple, a 400-year-old temple at the site where Tulsidas, the author of Ramcharita Manas had an encounter with Lord Hanuman, shocked everyone. They were expected to trigger communal unrest and riots across communally sensitive Uttar Pradesh. The fact that this did not happen is in a large measure directly attributed to the actions of the head priest of the Sankat Mochan temple Veer Bhadra Mishra.
Mishra is no ordinary temple priest. A hydraulic engineering professor at Banaras Hindu University, he was the head of the department of civil engineering when he was asked to take over as the eighth generation priest from his family to preside over the prayers at Sankat Mochan Temple.
His work with the Sankat Mochan Foundation for cleaning up the Ganga inspired the Ganga Action Plan (GAP). His continuous fight with the government to use local technology to clean the Ganga is well known. It has made him one of the seven Heroes of Our Planet by Time magazine. He is also on the United Nations honour roll for his work on cleaning the Ganga.
His actions on March 7 and after, however, have earned the gratitude of the entire nation. “The day of the attack was very painful for me, as it violated the 400-year-old temple where nothing like this had ever happened. The security forces forced us all out and sealed the temple. This created panic outside as thousands gathered,” he said recalling that fateful day.
“Right away I decided that things had to be normalised soon, and I entered the temple at 10:30 pm that night and performed the aarti and offered bhog,” he said. That was not all, Mishra met with the Mufti of Varanasi Maulana Abdul Batin to ensure that the Muslims of Varanasi were not harmed as a reaction to the blasts. “It is a terrorist attack. The Muslims in Varanasi revere the Sankat Mochan as much as the Hindus,” he said by way of explanation.
He also refused to allow the Bajrang Dal’s former chief Vinay Katiyar from offering dharna at the Temple. “This is a religious site, there is no place for politics here,” he reportedly told a disappointed Katiyar. “We all know what he is about,” he said later. “Even I wish the government had shared information on the possibility of attack, but that does not mean that the Muslims of Varanasi are in any way responsible. I will not allow this incident to trigger riots,” he said.
Perhaps this message of rationality could only have come from the engineer priest in one of the oldest living cities in the world.