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Thursday, July 25, 2024

Sammed Shikhar: Its importance, the controversy over it and its chronology

Protests by the Jain community over the government’s notification declaring the Parasnath Hills, a Jain pilgrimage site, as a tourist spot have been taking place across the country and abroad.

Jain priest Sugya Sagar Maharaj, who started fasting on December 25, to protest against the decision by the Jharkhand government, passed away on Tuesday in Sanganer in Rajasthan. His death angered the community even further.

Politics has intensified over this dispute, with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) terming the dispute as the BJP’s ‘sin’, while the saffron party has alleged that millions of Jains are being hurt due to the stubbornness of the Hemant Soren-led government in the state.

The historical significance of Sammed Shikhar:

Known as the Himalayas of Jharkhand, Parasnath Hill, situated in Giridih district, is the highest hill in the state and stands at a height of 1,350 metres.

It is the biggest pilgrimage site of the Jain community and is known to them as Shri Shikharji or Sammed Shikhar.

It is said that 20 out of the 24 Tirthankaras (supreme Jain gurus), including Lord Parshvanath, the 23rd Tirthankara, attained moksha (salvation) in Madhuvan, a town located at the foot of the hill.

Parshvanath’s tonk (a peak with a temple, as defined in some Jain literature) is situated on this peak and his symbol is a serpent.

The place got its name after him.

It is called ‘Siddha Kshetra’ and ‘Tirtharaj’ in Jainism, which means, ‘King of Pilgrimages’. Lakhs of devotees come here every year.

The journey from Madhuvan to the Shikhar i.e. the top of the hill is about 9 km. Devotees travel by foot or by Doli (palanquin) to reach the top of the sacred mountain surrounded by forests.

Dispute of pilgrimage site vs tourist site:

The Central government’s Ministry of Forest and Environment has declared a part of the Parasnath Hills as a wildlife sanctuary and an eco-sensitive zone, while the Jharkhand government has identified it as a religious tourist destination in its tourism policy.

The followers of Jainism said that the sanctity of this revered place would be violated if it is declared a tourist destination, and said that tourists would eat non-vegetarian food and drink around the area which will hurt the non-violent spirit of Jainism.

The followers demanded that the notification issued by the Central and state governments to declare it a tourist destination be withdrawn.

Several protests, including silent demonstrations, were carried out by the followers of Jainism in the last month.

The chronology of the controversy

On October 22, 2018, during the Chief Ministership of Raghubar Das, the Department of Tourism, Art, Culture and Sports of the Jharkhand government issued an office order, stating that Parasnath Sammed Shikhar Ji had been a sacred and revered place for Jain followers for centuries and the state government was committed to keeping its sanctity intact.

On February 26, 2019, the same government issued a gazette notification, in which Giridih’s Parasnath Madhuvan was mentioned as a tourist destination. The notification included tourist spots in all 24 districts of the state.

On August 2, 2019, the Union Ministry of Forest and Environment issued a gazette, where Sammed Shikhar was identified as a wildlife sanctuary, an eco-sensitive zone and a tourist destination.

The Hemant Soren-led coalition government announced a new tourism policy in 2021 and issued a notification on February 17, 2022, in which Parasnath Hills was identified as a religious tourist destination.

The Jain society has been opposing all the notifications declaring Sammed Shikhar as a tourist destination with the religious leaders demanding it remains a holy place.

How can the dispute end?

Initiatives would have to be taken by both the Central and state governments to end the dispute.

Both governments would have to withdraw their notifications if there is an agreement over the demand by the Jain community.

Chief Minister Hemant Soren said that he has been keeping abreast of all aspects of the matter. He added that his government respected all religions and that no steps would be taken to hurt a community’s faith.

Governor Ramesh Bais has written a letter to the Union Forest and Environment Minister saying that the decision to declare the place as a tourist spot should be re-reviewed while keeping the sentiments and faith of the Jains in mind.

He added that it would be appropriate for it to remain a pilgrimage centre.

(This article has been published via a syndicated feed)

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