The famous pilgrim place of Lord Shiva, the Somnath temple in Gujarat will now be off-limits for non-Hindus as authorities have decided against entry to people following other faiths without prior permission.
Authorities cited security concerns and protection of 'sanctity' of a religious place for the restriction, saying other religions do not allow non-followers to enter their sacred places.
"Shree Somnath Jyotirling is a pilgrimage for Hindus. Non-Hindus will have to obtain permission from general manager's office (of the temple) to enter the sacred pilgrim-place," said a notice put up by temple authorities at the main entrance gate. The notice was put up outside the main entrance-gate of the temple last Monday.
Daily thousands of devotees from across the country visit the temple, which is very heavily protected by police. The famous Shiva temple, located near the Veraval town of Gir-Somnath district, is governed by a trustee board headed by former Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader L K Advani are other trustees.
"The decision was taken by the Somnath Trust's secretary (P K Lahiri) two to three days ago and we put a notice accordingly," Vijaysinh Chavda, Deputy Manager of Somnath trust, told PTI.
When asked about reasons behind barring the entry of non-Hindus in the temple without taking permission, Chavda said the decision has been taken due to security reasons.
Trustee Secretary of Somanth Temple and former Indian Administrative Service officer P K Lahiri told PTI, "Notice was put up after some people represented that entry needs to be regulated. I have put up that notice."
"Locals have noticed that non-Hindus are trying to enter and there were some issues from security-guards whether they should be allowed or not. We have decided to regulate it as per our old tradition," he said.
"Security reasons are always there. Somebody said a woman with a burqa was allowed while she was trying to enter. That raised the suspicion on whether non-Hindus should be checked whether they should be allowed to go and whether something will happen," he said.
Lahiri argued that other religions do not allow non-followers to enter their sacred places. "If you go to Parsi agiyari, what they put outside on notice board is non-Parsis are not allowed inside. Can you enter Mecca city? Every religion has its right to regulate," he said.
In reply to a question about what action can be taken if somebody is found violating the 'instruction', Lahiri said, "Then it is a trespass, criminal trespass. If I enter Parsi Agiyari hiding my identity, it is criminal trespass."
Lahiri parried a query on whether the trustees (Modi, Advani) of the temple were informed about the decision, saying they have carried forward Hindu tradition.
"This is not a new decision. We have carried forward our tradition. It is part of our own Constitution that all Hindus will have a right to enter without any discrimination," he said.
The Somnath temple has a unique place in Hinduism as history says that there were several desecrations by Muslim invaders from eleventh to eighteen century on the structure. However, after every attack, the temple was rebuilt.
The present structure was built post Independence after a resolve by the first home minister Sardar Patel and was inaugurated by first president Dr Rajendra Prasad on May 11, 1951.