The latest reports of seat no. 64 in Coach B5 of India’s third private train being turned into a mini temple for Lord Shiva, the 82401 Kashi Mahakal Express, just go to show that the Centre has implemented its idea of pilgrimage tourism to the T.
Launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, the train’s seat 64 has a berth dedicated to the Lord with pictures of him, garlands and a puja thali to offer prayers to the deity. The Kashi Mahakal Express is set to connect the three jyotirlinga shrines in Omkareshwar (near Indore), Mahakaleshwar (Ujjain) and Kashi Vishwanath (Varanasi). The railway authorities are also mulling making the temporary temple a permanent one, apart from offering prayers at the seat on auspicious days and occasions.
News 18 reported Deepak Kumar, a spokesperson for the Northern Railway as saying, “Seat number 64 in coach B5 was reserved and left vacant for the deity. It’s for the first time that a seat has been reserved and left vacant for the deity Lord Shiva. Even a temple has been drawn on the seat to make people aware that the seat is reserved for the Lord Mahakal in Madhya Pradesh’s Ujjain.”
The train is also set to play light devotional music, only serve vegetarian meals and have two dedicated private guards in every coach.
While images of staff praying before the seat where the temple is made are making the rounds, the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has clarified to news agency ANI that “there is going to be no such reserved or dedicated berth for this purpose in the commercial run of the train”. The IRCTC added, “Staff of the new Kashi Mahakal Express train had temporarily put photos of Shri Mahakaal on an upper berth to do ‘pooja’ and seek blessings for the success of the new project. It is meant only for the inaugural run as a one-time affair.”
The train is to commence commercial operations on February 20 while Mahashivratri, a festival dedicated to Lord Shiva falls on February 21.
Nonetheless, post the revelation, Twitterati had a field day questioning the Indian Railways of its newest announcement and also drew the ire of a few politicians.
Varanasi: Seat number 64 of coach B5 in Kashi Mahakal Express (Varanasi-Indore) has been turned into a mini-temple of Lord Shiva. The train was flagged off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi via video conferencing yesterday. pic.twitter.com/X5rO4Ftbl6
— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) February 16, 2020
Amid row over reports that a berth in #KashiMahakalExpress is reserved for #LordShiva, #Railway Minister #PiyushGoyal made it clear that neither a #train was reserved on the basis of religion nor will be reserved in future.#Sakal #SakalNews #ViralNewshttps://t.co/VwiqsOYlLg
— Sakal Times (@sakaltimes) February 18, 2020
— Asaduddin Owaisi (@asadowaisi) February 17, 2020
Incense sticks being used inside the berth of Kashi Mahakal Express. Seat No 64, B5. This goes against the Fire protection rule of Indian Railways. Kindly take into cognizance. @RailMinIndia @RailwaySeva @TheQuint @PiyushGoyal @PMOIndia @TheLallantop pic.twitter.com/EmefyoXvP4
— Aatif Iqbal (@Aatifz3) February 17, 2020
Though the PM seems to have allowed Lord Shiva to bestow his blessings for the project, will the mini-temple be removed once the train commences operations or will this turn into another attempt to slowly push the Hindutva agenda will have to be seen.