A sacred site steeped deeply in mythology and tantric worship since prehistoric times, Nilachal Hills in Guwahati is gearing up for the annual ‘Ambubashi’ pilgrimage. The devout atmosphere prevailing there is indescribable, with tens of thousands of devotees flocking to Kamakhya dham from different corners of the country and abroad. From 22 to 26 June, this five-day festival is expected to draw a staggering ten lakh seers and devotees. In charge of the temple magement, the Kamakhya Debutter Board is being helped by the Kamrup (Metro) district administration in arranging logistics, food, traffic and adequate security. After all, Kamakhya dham may figure prominently as a site for Shakta worship, but it is also one of the most important destitions of religious tourism in Assam. So when the image of the State takes a knock due to allegations of large-scale and rampant fincial irregularities in the magement of Kamakhya, there is considerable dismay. Is it too much to expect that a shrine as exalted and prestigious as Kamakhya dham be free of the taint of sleaze and skulduggery?
Revered as the site where goddess Sati’s procreative organ fell when Lord Vishnu tried to end Shiva’s fearsome tandava dance, it is believed that the presiding deity of Kamakhya shrine enters the yearly menstrual cycle as the monsoons gather strength. Implicit in this belief is the creative and nurturing principle of Mother Earth and its periodic regeneration. The temple doors are shut for three days, then opened to devotees amidst great rejoicing. But this year a shadow has been cast over the festive atmosphere with allegations that the huge collections of cash, gold and other valuable offerings from lakhs of devotees have not been accounted for years on end by the temple magement. The amount concealed in eleven years could touch an astounding Rs 100 crores, some quarters claim. The Debutter board has been at pains to deny the allegations, but its responsibility to keep intact the religious tradition and renown of Kamakhya shrine also demands total transparency in its dealings. If the temple magement fails to keep itself above such controversies, it risks seriously undermining the faith of countless devotees. It is also the responsibility of the Assam government to ensure transparency in the affairs of the temple magement.
A comparison with the Tirumala Venkateswara temple in Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh may help put things in perspective. Lakhs of devotees visit this shrine every year, many tonsure their heads and many make hugely valuable offerings. The temple magement has been setting high standards in ensuring advance online booking and ticketing for hassle-free darshan, accommodation, tonsuring facility and distribution of ‘prasadam’. Opinions and suggestions are regularly sought from pilgrims to ensure greater transparency, though controversies do crop up now and then over ostentatious offerings by suspect people and VIPs getting special darshans. With temple magements in leading shrines like Kamakhya and Tirumala receiving government support, tax relief and other facilities, there has long been tough questions posed about why they are allowed unrestrained access to offering and contributions from devotees. Steps have been suggested like banning large collection boxes in temple precincts, bank counters to issue receipts against devotees’ contributions in cash or kind, verification of identities of those making suspiciously large contributions and thereby prevent money laundering, treating all uccounted valuables as state property. The lack of transparency in fincial dealings give rise to suspicion of scams and intrigues in large places of worship. This is something the Kamakhya Debutter board must avoid at all costs.