A few days ago (March 13), the local edition of a Hindi newspaper reported that the Kashi Viswanath Trust had decided to charge Rs 500 for the 'sparsh darshan' of the Shivling.
The 'sparsh darshan' enables believers to touch the Shivling and seek blessings. Others only get a glimpse of it. The crowd ensures that one cannot spend more than a few moments before the shivling.
The idea of the sparsh darshan came from Ujjain’s Mahakal Mandir. It was discussed in a meeting of the Trust on February 22. The charges were implemented on a trial basis.
Slowly anger began to build among devotees who wondered what the need was to collect such money when a special darshan, which did not require waiting in queues, already cost Rs 350.
On March 14, an FIR was filed against nine named and multiple unnamed people. The FIR said that on March 2, on the occasion of Rang Bhari Ekadashi, one Ajay Sharma received a receipt for donation and forcibly got ‘sparsh darshan’ stamped on it. He then shared the receipt with a newspaper and the news went viral. The photo on Twitter meanwhile, ‘allegedly’ drew widespread use of foul language against the administration, officers and the temple.
All the accused have been charged 153-A; 295-A, 504; 120-B of the Indian Penal Code 1860 and under Section 67 of the IT Act. It is interesting to note that one of the accused tweeted on the issue on March 15 - a day after the FIR had already been registered. It is equally interesting to note that the report has been filed under the non-cognizable report category which means that a police officer cannot investigate it till the order of a magistrate.
Interestingly, no one from the newspaper which first published the news was named in the report.
Kaushal Raj Sharma, the Divisional Commissioner of Varanasi termed the report on charging Rs 500 for the sparsh darshan as ‘fake news’. He also speculated that someone from the temple management committee might have been involved in it.
Such controversies are not new for the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir. In 2020, a dress code had been issued by the temple authorities. Such codes are in place in many South Indian temples. However, after a furore, it was withdrawn.