“Pilgrims will come back to Kedarnath once the temple and the road is restored,” said a confident Rajshekar Hiremath, a priest in the popular Ukhimath temple in Rudraprayag district in Uttarakhand.
Roots in Belgaum
A native of Belgaum district, Rajshekar Hiremath has been a priest on rotation (priests change once in four years) in Kedarnath temple, now devastated by the floods. “We will start the rituals once we get the access and the rituals could be opened to pilgrims in two years.”
He has been a resident of Joshimath in Rudraprayag district since 1974. He is among the five priests from Karnataka – attached to Panchacharya Math and performing temple rituals in temples at Kedarnath, Ukhimath and Guptkashi.
Duty on rotation
“As part of the temple arrangement, we alternate between the temples and I last performed the role of the priest in Kedarnath in 2011,” Mr. Rajshekar told The Hindu over phone from Ukhimath.
Recalling the fateful days between June 15 and June 17 when the rain pounded the region, he said: “I have never seen such a heavy rainfall in the region since I came here in 1974. I have been informed that the damage has been extensive in Kedarnath, though the temple and the priests’ quarters are intact.” The statue of Nandi in front of the Kedarnath temple has not been damaged, he said, adding that the Shankaracharya’s Samadhi has been washed away.
“Political intervention in temple matters has also contributed to the nature’s fury,” says Mr. Hiremath.
According to him, the other four priests from Bijapur, Chitradurga and Shimoga, who have been selected by the “Kedar Jagaduru” of the math at various points of time, are all safe.
While the families of these priests stay in Joshimath, the priests travel to their assigned temples when the pilgrim season commences, carrying with them provisions and other necessary things that would last for about six months.