Dear Dr. Harsh Vardhan, visiting pandals and temples to celebrate festivals is not ‘ostentatious’

Union  Health Minister Harsh Vardhan recently called for extra precautions during the upcoming Hindu festival season and commented, “no religion or God lays down that religious events must be celebrated in an ostentatious manner, that you have to visit pandals and temples and mosques to pray.”

The minister also highlighted the possibility of increased transmission of coronavirus during winters as such viruses are known to thrive better in cold weather and low humidity conditions.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Modi had launched a countrywide Jan Andolan (people’s movement) to encourage people to adopt and encourage COVID-appropriate behaviours to curb spread of the diseases while celebrating (Hindu) festivals.

While one understands the spirit behind the Health Minister’s remarks, the language used is very troubling. It indicates a certain dismissiveness towards festivals and even religion. The fact that such sermons on good civic behaviour routinely emanate from politicians and celebrities only before Hindu festivals is not lost on anyone, anymore.

Would the minister care to define what is an ‘ostentatious’ celebration? Does he find the grand pandals that dot Bengal or Maharashtra during Durga Puja and Ganesh Chaturthi respectively, ‘ostentatious’? The Hindus who fund those pandals throw them open for everyone – rich or poor. They spread cheer and joy among ordinary Hindus for just a few days a year. They become a centre for expressing our religion & culture through art, song, dance. And yes, they also generate employment for thousands, if that is your barometer for judging all things. We need this ‘ostentation’!

As for going to temples during festival, that is an absolute must! Many of the problems afflicting Hindu society today stem from our apathy toward temples. Temples were once the nerve centre of Hindu society, sacred places which radiated Dharma in all direction, and which bred scholars who guided society. Are they performing that function today?

And the worst culprit here is the Secular State, of which you are a part, Dr. Harsh Vardhan! Can you name one Govt. controlled temple which is actively propagating Dharma, utilizing offerings & temple assets to run Gurukuls & schools, to train pujaris, engage devotees and pilgrims through Dharmic programs, doing Sewa in surrounding areas? Most governments look at temples as a cash cow as was again proven during this pandemic. The tussle to control  temple trusts & boards has become a political turf war, aided and abetted by busybody activists and judiciary.

Shri Ashok Chowgule, Working President (External) of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, commenting on the Health Minister’s remarks said –

“I really cannot understand what goes in the minds of politicians, particularly those whose vote base is Hindu, to frame the issue in this manner. The Hindus had a low-key Holi, a low-key Ganesh Chaturthi, a low-key Krishna Janmashtami. Even the Jaganntah Rath Yatra was low-key. None of these have seen any kind of even mild super-spreader (of Covid-19).

Hindus have shown that they can behave responsibly when it comes to celebrating their festivals. It is statement like the one made by the Union Health Minister that makes them annoyed.”

Hindu devotees have suffered the worst excesses of the State during this pandemic, yet have by & large abided by the government protocols to combat the virus.

We wish you had shown similar alacrity to advise the minority community when they were flocking to mosques during initial stages of lockdown and even clashing with police who tried to prevent them. Or when clerics like the still absconding Tablighi Jamaat chief Maulana Saad was exhorting Muslims to ignore medical advice and flock to the mosques as Allah alone could save them, and claiming ‘the wrath of God will inflict the Kafirs’.

Or if you wanted to avoid broaching this ‘communal’ topic Dr. Harsh Vardhan, you could speak up for hapless doctors of Maharashtra who are fighting both the pandemic and a vengeful, incompetent administration?

Yes, we cannot let our guard down against Covid-19. We have to be especially careful in the winter months. But at the same time, we must celebrate our festivals. Festivals are community events which are supposed to be celebrated publicly, not in confines of our homes cut off from each other. Maintain social distancing, assist your local pandal and temple for crowd management, wear a mask at all times – but celebrate in the manner which brings you joy. Be ostentatious if you want, spread cheer and happiness, give generously to the under-privileged, worship your Gods.


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