The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has courted controversy over two worship ceremonies held at the ruins of the ancient Martand Sun Temple at Mattan in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district. In the last three days, this is the second religious ceremony organized by the ASI at a “site of national importance”. Martand Temple is the oldest among the Sun Temples of India and a symbol of invaluable ancient spiritual heritage. The 8th century temple is said to have been destroyed between 1389 and 1413 during the rule of Sikandar Shahmiri.

According to locals, a group of over 100 pilgrims prayed for a few hours on Friday morning at the ruins of the eighth-century ASI-protected Martand Sun Temple. Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha visited Anantnag on Sunday and participated in the auspicious Navagraha Ashtamangalam Puja.

The ASI officials questioned the worship saying that no religious prayer is performed at ASI protected places across India, unless it is a place of worship and no permission was sought for worshiping here.

As per Rule 7(1) of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Rules of 1959, meetings, receptions, parties, entertainment or conferences cannot be held at a protected monument without the written permission of the Central Government. Rule 7(2) states that it should not apply to any event organized “in pursuance of any recognized religious practice or practice”.

The Jammu and Kashmir government, however, denied the allegations of violation, saying that no permission was required for the Lt Governor to conduct ‘puja’ at the Martand Sun Temple in Anantnag, a monument protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.

The PTI report, quoting Deputy Commissioner Dr Piyush Singhla, said the ceremony was permitted under Rule 7(2) of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act of 1959, which states that “sub-rule ( 1) Nothing in this shall apply to any meeting, reception, party, convention or entertainment, which is conducted in pursuance of a recognized religious use or practice”.

Before Sinha, a group of Brahmins from an old unknown Rashtriya Anhad Mahayoga Peeth in Karauli, Rajasthan, led by its chief Maharaja Rudranath Anhad Mahakal, performed puja on Friday without written permission from the district administration or the Archaeological Survey of India.

Protected by security personnel provided by the district administration, the pilgrims sat on stone platforms amidst the ruins of the ancient Temple of the Sun, reciting Hindu scriptures and texts. The group consisted of 101 Brahmins, mostly from UP and Rajasthan

Video clips of the event were being circulated on social media by the group as part of a campaign and the idea behind praying was to “revive Mother India” as Kashmir was their “head and mind”. The party also carried a saffron flag, which had Om written on it, as well as a tricolor. Devotees blew conch shells chanting ‘Har Har Mahadev’.

The monuments under ASI protection are not open for prayer to any community unless such a prayer was being held at the site when it was taken over by the central archeological body.

May 6 was chosen as the date as it was Shankaracharya Jayanti. Also marked the commemoration of Adi Shankaracharya’s visit to Kashmir. Mahant said that like the saint-philosopher, the mission of his group was also to free people from violence in Kashmir by spreading “knowledge” of “Indian culture”.

“We went to purify the place, as we do the griha pravesh puja before entering the new house,” he said, adding that Hindu groups are pushing to open the temple for worship as part of the newly revitalized Hindu movement. Huh. However, sources said that the ASI had no plans to open the temple for worshipers in future.

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