Devotees outside Mahavir temple at Patna Junction. Telegraph picture
Shrines involved in welfare work
Mahavir Mandir Trusts are running a number of welfare organisations such as Mahavir Cancer Sansthan, Mahavir Arogya Sansthan, Mahavir Vaatsalya and Mahavir Netralaya. Do you think any other temple has similar potential to get involved in philanthropic work?
Many temples are motivated to start philanthropic work and some of them are already doing it on small-scale. Funds crunch is a problem, still shrines like Dev temple in Aurangabad, Garib Nath temple in Muzaffarpur, Singheshwar Sthan at Madhepura, Mundeshwari temple in Kaimur hills, Hariharnath temple in Sonepur, Shyama temple in Darbhanga and Thawe temple in Gopalganj are doing their bit for the welfare of people.
Philanthropic work undertaken by Mahavir temple is vast. You cannot compare it with any other temple as the annual income of Mahavir temple is around Rs 5 crore while the rest of the temples receive Rs 50 lakh to Rs 1 crore per year. Mahavir temple also enjoys the confidence of big banks, officers and people who matter most. We started from zero but today the total assets of the Mahavir temple are Rs 125 crore.
What are the challenges before the Religious Board Trusts and Mahavir temple?
Temple registration is a big challenge for us. All public temples are supposed to be registered with Bihar State Board of Religious Trusts but hardly any temple follows this system. When we conduct an inquiry and initiate legal action against the temple, only then the authorities come forward for registration. So far, only 4,400 temples are registered with the board.
The Naxalites are another big problem for the board. Many temple land have been captured by the rebels in Sitamarhi, West Champaran and Arwal districts.
The other challenge before the board is temples not being devotee-friendly. This is one big reason why devotees do not visit other temples in huge numbers.
As far as challenges before the Mahavir temple are concerned, I must say the security is “Ram Bharose” (dependent on Lord Ram). Few Special Auxiliary Police (SAF) personnel are deployed here but they are not enough to ward off a terror strike. The temple should be provided more security guards. Even the metal-detector door has not been placed despite repeated requests to the Bihar DGP.
The train engine model placed outside the temple is another challenge for the temple. It has become a hideout for criminal elements.
a serious issue’
How many temples have encroached on government land and what steps have been taken to tackle the issue?
There are around 16,000 temples set up illegally on government land of which at least 100 are running in Patna itself. Since I have joined the board, I have not allowed registration of any temple constructed on government land.
Citing the Supreme Court direction in this regard, I had written letters to the Bihar chief secretary to constitute a committee which would give necessary recommendations over religious shrines mushrooming on government land. On November 15, 2011, the state government formed the committee but no meeting has taken place so far.
Temples encroaching upon government land is a very serious issue. Not only small shrines but a series of temples is being built on government land in Simaria in Begusarai district. We have filed a writ petition before Patna High Court in this matter.
It is often seen that temple priests and pandas authoritatively demand money from devotees and many times their behaviour is hostile. What steps have you taken in this regard?
I admit these things are happening in other temples. In fact, pandas in Thawe temple do not allow you to enter the premises until you give them some money. We have constituted a committee to look into the issue and discourage such practices.
Except for Mahavir temple, most of the priests in other temples charge unnecessary money for conducting havan and puja. For every small ritual they ask for money. This is unacceptable. A proper rate has to be fixed for all temples and that should be displayed on a board on the temple premises.
It is also true that people associated with the temple management and the trusts are the biggest culprits in damaging the temple's reputation. Traditionally, the temple premises were occupied by priests but now their wife and children are also staying there. Such practices destroy the spiritual atmosphere of the temple.
Space constraint biggest challenge
Can Mahavir temple become a religious tourist place like Deoghar or Tirupati?
Space is the biggest constraint for Mahavir temple. Another big problem is parking space. Even I want to promote this temple as a tourist place but it’s not possible unless we will get one more acre of land.
Several times I have written letters to the Bihar chief secretary to provide us the space, presently occupied by small shops, between the temple and the mosque. I had suggested demolishing the shops and constructing an underground parking lot. The shops can be set up again over the parking lot.
We need to make arrangements for accommodation of devotees. If that happens, the temple will become a pilgrimage hub. The Mahavir temple is already quite famous and I must say it is the biggest temple in north India to receive lakhs of devotees every day. On the occasion of Ram Navmi, the number of devotees swells three times. If I am not wrong the temple gets more devotees than Ayodhya.
What about marketing of prasad (offerings)?
It is one venture which is working successfully in the Mahavir temple. People are liking the special prasad of Naivaidyam. In the beginning when I brought the trained sweet makers from Tirupati, they were not ready to stay here. But today, their prasad has become famous across the state and generates Rs 2 crore income annually.
I have suggested similar additions to prasad options to many other temples of the state but they are still to think beyond the sweet laddu. I told the Mundeshwari temple authorities to make sweets from rice called Tendul. Similarly, I suggested making kheer the official prasad of Shyama temple. These temples, however, are still stuck with laddus as prasad.
Police officer to religious worker
About Acharya Kishore Kunal…
Born on August 10, 1950, Acharya Kunal did his schooling from Baruraj village in Muzaffarpur district. He did his graduation from Patna university in History and Sanskrit in 1970. He became an IPS officer in 1972 from Gujarat cadre and got his first posting as superintendent of police, Anand.
Acharya Kunal became the deputy commissioner of police, Ahmedabad, in 1978. He finished his masters in 1983 and from 1990 to 1994, he served as officer on special duty under three Prime Ministers — Vishwanath Pratap Singh, Chandra Shekhar and P.V. Narasimha Rao. In 1983, he joined as Patna SSP and at that time only he got associated with the reconstruction work of Mahavir Mandir.
In 2001, he took voluntary retirement from police service to become a full-fledged member of temple trust.
If not an IPS officer what would you have been?
I would have been a lecturer. I ran away from my house to join Patna University and became a lecturer. Later, I read about Rahul Sankrityayan and become a Marxist. It was just destiny that I became an IPS officer.
Dalit priests accepted’
Do you think the Brahmin priests have accepted the Dalit priests?
In June 1993, when I first appointed a Dalit priest in Mahavir temple, many people had strong reservations. In fact, a senior politician of the Brahmin community questioned me and said whatever I was doing was not correct.
But things have changed now. In the past three-four years, people from Brahmin community, too, have started accepting the priest from Dalit community. These days, I do not need to explain the reason behind the move. However, there are some sections in society who still have reservations on the issue. To explain the concept, I wrote two volumes of Dalit Devo Bhav. The third volume will soon be released.
I firmly believe that one should not be discriminated on the basis of birth. I have also appointed people from Dalit community on the board.