By: Satyakam Bharti
It has been nearly a fortnight that five 17th-century bronze idols were stolen from the Miya Ka Mandir in Nahan, but there has been no official word over it except for the police version. The religious heritage wealth of the state is almost up for grabs, but paradoxically hardly anybody is complaining, not even the guardians of the faith. It’s another irony that the state government pays great attention to preserving and promoting the British heritage buildings, while the local history has been fading away on the walls of village temples and even vanishing with every stolen ashthdhatu idol.
No leader of any worth has ever been heard expressing concern about temple idols going missing at an alarming rate. Himachal is no Egypt to have a department of antiquities, but somebody certainly needs to be answerable for large-scale smuggling and thefts of idols of historical importance. As per the government records, Himachal has over 2,000 temples and monasteries that are centuries old. Of these, only 60 are under the supervision of the ASI, while 31 are being looked after by the state language, art and culture department that has hardly any expertise and resources in the field. Besides these, almost every other village in the state has a temple with a history that has no other recorded proof except for folk lores.
The government needs to act fast if the remaining chunks of this history are to be preserved, and the initiative needs to come from the very top. The problem itself cannot be described as simple thefts of temple idols because there are several factors that have contributed to it.
We should understand that the socio-economic culture in the state is undergoing great transformation and therefore there is unrest all around. There was a time when no village house would be found locked, but today no one can afford to have that kind of faith. Even if organised smuggling gangs are operating in the state, the fact cannot be denied that there is local support, be it in temple thefts or drug trafficking. The lure of easy money has been corrupting people and there is hardly anything that can be done about it because the model of capitalism and consumerist society that we are pursuing hardly takes care of this aspect of social living. Of course, there can be alternatives, like measuring our progress in terms of gross happiness index, but for that we need strong leadership to steer the transformation.
The village needs to be rejuvenated and for that every individual has to contribute, but it will again depend on leadership we give ourselves. Logistically, a system needs to be worked out whereby every individual in the village should be assigned responsibility and a hierarchy needs to be defined to fix responsibility.
The fact that village temples in Himachal, though having great historical significance, have little influence outside a cluster of villages around them, may be the reason why politicians can afford to ignore theft of an idol worth crores. The tourism department has its job cut here to document and promote such temples as tourist places so that the villagers start taking pride in preserving and protecting their little monuments.
The task at hand appear monumental, but a beginning has to be made somewhere – the sooner the better it would be to preserve out way of living.