|A decorated Kedarnath temple awaits the resumption of prayers on Wednesday, 86 days after the Uttarakhand floods; (bottom) Rawal Bhima Shankar
Shivacharya and other priests perform a hawan in the temple. (PTI)
Sept. 11: A new chapter began at Kedarnath Temple today as the tolling of bells and the chanting of mantras shattered the almost three-month-long silence at the shrine wrecked by the June floods.
“We are back into light. The darkness is over. We are happy to restart a new chapter in this historic temple. We want the pilgrims to come back soon,” said Rawal Bhima Shankar Shivacharya, who led a group of two dozen priests, at the shrine located at a height of 11,000ft.
Shivacharya and his colleagues were among a small band of about 50 persons, including officials, present. Pilgrims were not allowed.
The last puja was performed on June 15 evening, hours before the floodwaters, fed by incessant rain, surged in. Hundreds died around the hills.
Less than a week ago, the authorities had found 64 decomposed bodies in the hills near the shrine during a cleaning drive for the resumption of puja.
The prayers began today around 7.30am with a kapat khol (open the door) ceremony, followed by a purification ritual as several people had died in the temple compound. A prayashchitikaran (atonement) rite was also performed for the prolonged suspension of prayers.
“Om Namah Shivaya,” the priests chanted, pouring milk, honey, curd and ghee on the Shiv lingam. Sampat Tiwari, the temple’s bell man, wouldn’t stop ringing it as others joined in by blowing conch shells. The puja continued till 11am.
The Uttarakhand government, with the help of the temple management committee, had spruced up the compound over the past few weeks for the prayers to restart. Platforms around the temple damaged in the floods were given a new look with marquees.
But a lot remains to be done. Several structures are in a shambles, with heaps of wooden planks, broken doors and razed walls lying metres from the main temple. Some debris was cleared in recent weeks but tonnes still lie piled up with officials fearing bodies may be trapped underneath.
“The challenges of restoring the temple are many. We implemented the recommendations made by conservation experts for a cleaning drive. I am happy we could restart the puja”, said state agriculture minister Harak Singh Rawat who was among those present today.
Chief minister Vijay Bahuguna could not take off from state capital Dehradun because of inclement weather in the morning.
Despite the bar on pilgrims, some tried to make their way up the hills but got stranded in Guptkashi, around 22km from the temple, because of rain. Others were stopped by the authorities.
Bahuguna said people were not allowed to attend today’s puja as the roads to the temple need to be strengthened. A review meeting will be held on September 30 to decide whether to restart yatras.
BJP leader and former chief minister Ramesh Pokhariyal was among those stopped. He criticised the move not to allow other priests to visit the shrine. Those allowed today had been given special passes.
Pokhariyal also questioned the timing of the puja resumption saying the day was not auspicious. Bahuguna retorted by saying “everyday is auspicious”.