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Jains observe a one-day bandh to protest against the Jharkhand govt’s decision to turn Shri Sammed Shikharji Tirth into a tourist spot

As a part of the Tourism Policy launched this July, the Jharkhand government decided to promote religious tourism at Parasnath Hills, the region that nestles the revered Jain pilgrimage centre from where 20 of the total 24 Tirthankars attained salvation.

Jains across the country are observing a one-day bandh on 21 December 2022 as a mark of protest against the Jharkhand government’s decision to turn Shri Sammed Shikharji, one of the foremost Jain pilgrimage centres in the country, into an eco-tourism spot. 

As a part of the Tourism Policy launched this July, the Jharkhand government decided to promote religious tourism at Parasnath Hills, the region that nestles the revered Jain pilgrimage centre from where 20 of the total 24 Tirthankars attained salvation. Every year, thousands of Jains from across the world. undertake the 27 km long trek of climbing the hills to reach the summit that houses the salvation shrines of 20 Tirthankaras. Besides, the hills are also considered holy by the members of the Santhal tribe, who regard it as ‘Marang Buru’ and hold an annual festival here in mid-April.

However, the decision to turn Shri Sammed Shikarji into a tourist destination has had the Jain community on pins and needles, who are fearful that such a move could sully the religious sanctity of the place and secularise one of the few holiest pilgrimage centres that Jains have jealously guarded for thousands of years. 

Thousands of Jains, across the country, are observing a one-day bandh on 21st December to protest against the Jharkhand government’s decision and to convey their objection to a regime bent on appropriating religious heritage sites of a minority community, which constitutes only 0.4 per cent of India’s total population. From Gujarat to Rajasthan, to Madhya Pradesh, and several other states, members of the Jain Community hit the streets demanding a rollback of the Soren government’s decision to throw open the Shri Sammed Shikharji pilgrimage for tourists.

“It is a holy place for the community. But ironically, the Jharkhand Government has declared it a tourist place. This will allow the tourists to visit the holy place for fun and entertainment and will disturb the holiness of the place. We appeal to the Government to withdraw its decision immediately and to ensure that the environment of the holy place is not disturbed by tourists,” a member of the Jain community to participated in protests in Mysuru said.

Concerns of violation of religious sanctity of sacred places, and the possibility of vandalism attacks plague Jain devotees

“It is a dangerous move because it sets a precedent for the governments to use religious sites for boosting their tourism revenue. The government exchequer is filled at the expense of the religious salience of a holy site,” said Kirti Vora, a member of the Anandji Kalyanji Trust, an esteemed body that looks after another sacred Jain pilgrimage centre in Palitana, Gujarat. 

“When a cultural site is thrown open to tourism, it not only results in the violation of its religious sanctity but also leads to the degeneration of the place and artefacts attached to it,” Vora said while highlighting the chronic vandalism of historical monuments caused by tourists. 

Mr Ashish Shah, a member of Parshvanath Mandir Trust in Ahmedabad, said turning a religious site into a tourism centre robs it of its spiritual significance and lowers its pre-eminence among the adherents. 

“Jains have spiritual feelings and sentiments attached to Shri Sammed Shikharji. If the place is turned into a tourism hub, those sentiments will eventually evaporate and cease to exist. Over time, the fact that place serves as the resting abode of 20 Tirthankars will lose its significance among Jains,” he added. 

Mr Shah also raised alarm bells that turning Sammed Shikharji into a tourist destination could result. He pointed out the recent vandalism attack on an ancient Jain shrine in the holy town of Palitana, where vandals had removed poles and tried to damage the footprints of Lord Adinath, the founder of the Ikshavaku dynasty and the first Jain Tirthankar in the current cycle of 24 Tirthankars. The footprints are regarded by some Jain devotees to be older than the Palitana itself.

“The attacks we have witnessed in recent days, especially in Palitana and other Jain temples across the country, there is little doubt what opening up Sammed Shikharji to tourists would do to the numerous temples hosted on its hills. Will the government provide security to each and every temple on the hills? And what’s the guarantee that such attacks would not take place on Shri Sammed Shikharji once it is commercialised as tourist hub?” Mr Shah questioned. 

Jains organise a rally in Palitana over a vandalism attack on an ancient Jain shrine

Over 20 thousand Jains participated in a rally in Palitana and submitted a memorandum to the deputy collector demanding to take action against those who broke a CCTV camera pole and a board at Shetrunjay hill.

Jain Shwetambar Tapgachchh Maha Sangh Ahmedabad and Mumbai Jain Sangh organized a rally in opposition to the attack. Jains from Chennai, Mumbai, Bangalore, Surat, Ahmedabad and Bhavnagar travelled to Palitana to participate in the rally and raise their voice against the vandalism attack. A press conference was organised about the incident. Shetrunjay Mahatirth Raksha Samiti Ahmedabad spokesperson Abhaybhai Shah and Ahmedabad Jain Sangh general secretary Pranav Shah demanded immediate action against those responsible for the attack at Shetrunjay Mahatirth.

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Jinit Jain
Jinit Jain
Writer. Learner. Cricket Enthusiast.

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