Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday predicted a decade of development for Uttarakhand and an end to migration from the hills, as he inaugurated a rebuilt samadhi of Adi Shankaracharya in Kedarnath.
Addressing a gathering of priests and devotees, he said the redevelopment of centres of faith in India shows the country's growing pride in its ancient saints and philosophers like Adi Guru Shankaracharya and Swami Vivekananda.
A grand Ram temple is being built in Ayodhya to restore its glory after centuries while the work on the Vishwanath Dham project in Kashi is nearing completion, the prime minister said.
Modi also inaugurated and laid the foundation stone of reconstruction projects worth over Rs 400 crore at Kedarnath in Uttarakhand where the Assembly elections are just a few months away.
Mentioning the under-construction Chardham all-weather road and the Rishikesh-Karnaprayag rail link projects, he said the pace at which infrastructure projects are being carried out in Uttarakhand more pilgrims will visit the state over the next 10 years than in the last 100 years.
"The third decade of the century belongs to Uttarakhand. Take it from me. I am saying this from a holy land," Modi said.
The growing network of homestays will create livelihood opportunities for locals at their homes and stop migration from the hills by the youth in search of employment, he said.
"I have reversed the old saying that 'Pahad ka Pani aur jawani kabhi pahad ke kam nahin aate' (hills never benefit from its water and youth)."
Describing Uttarakhand as a land of bravehearts who don't hesitate to lay down their lives to protect India's frontiers, the prime minister said the modernisation of the defence sector had boosted the morale of the forces and increased their valour.
"Problems related to the armed forces are being resolved on priority. I had the fortune of fulfilling their demand for One Rank One Pension which was pending for four decades," the prime minister said.
Modi, who began his visit to Kedarnath by offering prayers at the Himalayan temple, said visiting the place has always been an overwhelming experience for him.
"Every time I come to bow at the feet of Baba Kedar, the glowing peaks that surround the temple and the winds that blow here take me to a different world. The experience is so overwhelming that I cannot describe it in words," he said.
Talking about the extensive damage caused to Kedarnath by the 2013 deluge, he said the devastation was so huge it was almost impossible to think of rebuilding things.
"But my gut and also my experience in reconstructing the earthquake-hit Kuchch always told me that Kedarnath will get back on its feet even stronger than before."
However, the credit for the reconstruction works in Kedarnath should go to Baba Kedar without whose blessings nothing could have been done, he said.
Modi also thanked Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami for the urgency with which took up the completion of projects and the labourers who worked in sub-zero temperatures to implement them.
Quoting from ancient Sanskrit texts, the prime minister spoke at length about the eighth-century saint and philosopher Adi Guru Shankaracharya's contribution towards the conservation of Hindu philosophy and ethos in India at a time when it was reeling under the shackles of slavery.
"Having read and understood the Vedas at a very young age, Shankaracharya explained to the world the core of Hindu philosophy and traditions in which there was no room for hatred, envy or caste-based discrimination," he said.
Modi asked people to take their children not only to places of historic significance but also to the holy shrines and centres of faith to familiarise the younger generation with the country's great traditions going back thousands of years.
A Buddhist circuit is being developed by connecting Buddhist sites at Sarnath and Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh and Bodh Gaya in Bihar. Similarly, centres of faith associated with Lord Ram are also being connected and developed into an integrated circuit, the prime minister said.
All this is happening because today's India is setting new goals for its future with confidence in the path shown by its ancient saints and philosophers like Adi Guru Shankaracharya, he said.
"At a time when the country is setting new goals for its future on the occasion of the 'Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav', Adi Guru Shankaracharya can be an inspiring icon," Modi said, asking why shouldn't every Indian identify with his philosophy.
He also described his experience while sitting in front of the reconstructed statue of Shankaracharya after unveiling it.
"I felt a light emanating from Shankaracharya's eyes which filled me with hope about a grand India in the making," the prime minister added.