Harmful Reverence Unregulated pilgrimages to religious sites within forest areas
Saevus|December 2020 - February 2021
Destroying the habitat and spreading filth around temple locations set in the serene depths of the Indian forests, the crush of humanity is like an unruly beast. This issue needs to be urgently restricted and regulated.
KUNAL SHARMA AND SIVAPRASAD PULIMOOTTIL
Religious identity has been a constant feature for generations of Indians and nowhere has it been stronger than in the worship of gods and goddesses. The ancient books spoke of the divinity of the forests and records suggest that sadhus and rishis frequented them for spiritual upliftment. As the four stages of life itself suggested, people were encouraged to take up the vanaprastha ashram and take refuge in the forest in order to become detached. Hindu traditions increasingly put focus on the role of a forest to cleanse a person’s mind, and several books devoted a considerable amount of text on the benefits of a hermit-like lifestyle.

With no proper records in place, evidence from books suggest that forests became highly popular with scores of hermitages housing famous sadhus and sects. Historical interpretation now suggests that most of these ancient hermitages went on to become famous holy sites and are now thronged by thousands of people for pilgrimages.

One famous ancient story is of the sage Agastya who is said to have lived and meditated deep inside what is now the Neyyar Tiger Reserve near Trivandrum. An extremely difficult place to reach, there have been constant calls to open the site for devotees who may want to visit the temple of Sage Agastya. Or, take the case of the Shikarji temple at an altitude of 1,300 metres on the Parasnath Hill in Jharkhand which is considered to be one of the most auspicious sites for Jains who believe that 20 out of the 24 tirthankaras attained nirvana there. Kedarnath Temple in Uttarakhand, Amarnath Cave Temple in Jammu & Kashmir, Badrinath, Hemkund Sahib, Tungnath and Rudranath temples in Uttarahand, Pavagarh Mahakali Temple in Gujarat, Sabarimala in Kerala, and Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh are some of the better managed religious sites which were located inside forests or in remote landscapes.

Yet, the tragedy is that the very reason for which temples came up in these remote locations has been compromised. Solitude, peace, and frugalness have been replaced by masses of devotees looking to visit these locations. And the early forested landscapes either disappear or reduce considerably. If these religious sites could talk, they would definitely curse human beings for destroying nature all around them.

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