The Two Real Sadhus of Ayodhya: Lal Das and Gyan Das

First Published on September 5, 2016

Mahant Lal Das, Head Priest of the Ram temple Ayodhya and Baba Gyan Das, mahant of the Hanumangarhi temple at Ayodhya. Both unusual head priests, or Sadhus in this day and age of politicised religion.

Mahant Lal Das                                                                                                         Baba Gyan Das

The head-priest of the Ram temple at Ayodhya, Mahant  Lal Das was one of the staunch opponents of the Advani–led rath  yatra. He had articulated his opposition to the blatant politicisation of religion and was made to pay with his life: he was found brutally murdered on November 16, 1993. The Times of India dated October 18, 1990 reported the priest’s public displeasure at the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation under the headline: ‘Priest asks Advani to halt yatra’. Murdered in 1993, Laldas had expressed fears for his life

Baba Gyan Das made news two days ago with his expansive and sensitive gesture to help re-build the Alamgiri Mosque at Ayodhya. Days after the local civic body declared the dilapidated 300-year-old Aalamgiri Masjid 'hazardous' and pasted notice banning entry into building, the Hanumangarhi temple trust, which is in possession of the masjid land, not only allowed its reconstruction but also agreed to bear cost and welcomed Muslims to offer namaz at the renovated mosque, The Times of India has reported.
In 1999, this visionary priest had given an incisive interview to Conducted by Archana Masih with photographs by Ganesh Nader, the article has relevance in the hate-filled politics of today.

"The VHP, RSS, BJP, all of them have drawn their entity from the mandir — but now they have dumped the real issue in the trash-can. Just as a bird-catcher uses seeds to lure birds to his net, these people have used Ram's name to pursue their political aims. They eventually deserted him after they achieved what they wanted. If they hadn't been so hasty, the Babri Masjid would have fallen on its own. It was so dilapidated. But they wanted to do the politics of bloodshed. Yes, we would like to have a temple too — but one that is as pure as milk. We don't to build it over the blood of the slain. Moreover, what business do sadhus have in pursuing politics?" fumes Baba Gyan Das, the mahant at the Hanumangarhi temple.

Hanumangarhi ranks among the three most prestigious temples in Ayodhya. The temple was built on a land grant from Nawab Safdar Jung and remains an important landmark. The friendly Baba Gyan Das, with an AK-47 brandishing security guard at the entrance of his home on the temple premises, sits on a wooden plank and is very forthcoming with his views.

"Katiyar is just fooling the people. They have collected over Rs 200 million for the temple and still say the pillars will take another three years for completion!" The Hanuman bhakt is scathing about the Sangh Parivar's politics of 'vote' and 'note', and reveals that he has evoked wide-ranging criticism for his views.Present at the first meeting on the temple issue at then prime minister V P Singh's home, he says he pulled out of such meetings subsequently — and has received some threatening letters as well.

"By their style of politics they have vitiated our temple movement. They have spread hatred. Because of the demolition and the events thereafter, 20 temples in the Ram Janambhoomi premises have closed down. There is only one pujari to look after the Ram Janambhoomi, how can he possibly look after all the other temples there? One bigmurti of Hanumanji was also damaged. You can see the broken foot, it is still there. This kind of fundamentalism is not Hinduism. If there is no humanity, how can you pursue dharma? They will not build the temple. They'll have no issue then. They are just an organisation ofdhongis (fakes)," continues Baba Gyan Das.

Laldas paid for his commitment to peace, harmony and non-violence with his life.  ”The Hindus and Muslims of Ayodhya and Faizabad can resolve the issue themselves,” Lal Das asserted while commenting on the situation arising out of Mr Advani’s rathyatra…. “The head priest said the offerings at the temple were being deposited at two banks. He alleged that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) was “looting the people in the guise of making collections for the temple”.”The VHP and the local administration are conspiring to oust me from this post, so much so that the local administration are determined to arrest me at the behest of the VHP,” he added. (TOI, October 18, 1990)

 Laldas had also accused monetary motive behind Ramjanmabhoomi movement
Laldas and many other local mahants had minced no words in repeating that large amounts of money had been collected on behalf of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas. Some claimed that the collections had erached Rs 700 crore.
Laldas was not the only one who was done to death. The sudden and mysterious death, by ‘accident’ of OSD, Subhash Bhan Sadh, an official with the Uttar Pradesh home department on April 30, 2000. His father has alleged foul play because he was carrying important documents to submit before the Liberhan Commission.
The Indian Express on July 6, 2000 recorded the mysterious events in an item titled: ‘Was UP official killed for Ayodhya links?’ The report reads, “A day after the high court ordered the Delhi police to investigate into the death of a senior official of the Uttar Pradesh government on April 30, the police are taking a fresh look at what was initially dismissed as an ‘accident’. The police have been directed to file a report on the death of OSD Subhash Bhan Sadh, an officer with the UP home department, by August 22. ….According to a petition filed by the victim’s father Bir Bhan Shad, his son was carrying top secret files relating to the Babri Masjid demolition when he boarded the Kanshi–Vishwanath Express in Lucknow on April 30. He was to appear before the Liberhan Ayodhya Commission the next day. But that never happened as Subhash met with an accident just before the train arrived at the New Delhi station. The files, the petition said, are missing.  

Lal Das had criticised the heavy police and para-military development in Ayodhya and said it has created a “state of terror” in the town.Mahant . Laldas paid with his life for his bold and outspoken views. The Independent  of November 18, 1993 recorded his brutal murder in a news report with the headline: ‘Ex–priest’s murder shocks Ayodhya’.

The text of the report read: “The brutal murder of Mahant Laldas, the controversial former priest of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya, on November 16 has sent shock waves through the surrounding areas of Faizabad. Mahant Laldas, who had been unceremoniously evicted by the Kalyan Singh government, was shot dead on Tuesday night at his house in Ayodhya. The priest, who had emerged as the most vocal critic of the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh usurping the Ram Janmabhoomi movement from the local bodies, had, for quite some time, been alleging a ‘sangh parivar conspiracy’ to murder him.“Fearing for his life, he is reported to have approached the local administration in Faizabad for security. His request went unheeded.” No one was tried for the murder. Laldas had deposed before the non–official commission investigating the whole issue, much to the annoyance of some local mahants who were part of the Bharatiya Janata Party–Vishwa Hindu Parishad bandwagon. (Citizens Tribunal on Ayodhya, December-January 1993)



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