Former chief minister of Gujarat Keshubhai Patel brought in a sea change in the temple and pilgrim facilities during his two-decade-long association with the Shree Somnath Trust (SKT), which maintains the Somnath temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and 64 other shrines in Prabhas Patan near Veraval in Gir Somnath district of Saurashtra, insiders say.
Keshubhai was appointed a trustee of the SKT in March 1999. Five years later and after he had been replaced by Narendra Modi as Gujarat’s CM, Patel was elected chairman of the board of trustees of SKT in 2004. From 2004 onward, the trustees of the SKT kept on electing him their chairman every year and the trend continued even after Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah joined the board of trustees. He was elected chairman for the 18th consecutive time at the virtual meeting of the board held on September 30 this year, SKT officers say.
“Keshubhai Patel, over the past 15 years while at the helm of Shree Somnath Trust, transformed Prabhas Patan as one of the best tirthakshetras (places of worship) in the country where pilgrims get accommodation at a reasonable price, wholesome food and easy access to darshan. Efforts that Keshubhai made in developing the first jyotirlinga of the country will be remembered by devotees for a long time,” Pravin Laheri, retired chief secretary of Gujarat who is now secretary of the SKT, told The Indian Express.
SKT board has eight trustees, including the chairman. The Gujarat government and the Central government can nominate four trustees each on the SKT board. Appointment on the board of trustees is for lifetime but one may resign voluntarily. The board can also remove a trustee for ‘breach of trust.’ As of Thursday, Keshubhai, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, veteran BJP leader L K Advani, P K Laheri, Jivan Parmar, a retired professor of Sanskrit and businessman Harshavardhan Neotia of Ambuja Neotia Group, were trustees of the SKT. One seat on the board had fallen vacant after businessman Rajen Kilachand of Dodsal Group resigned a few years ago.
It was from Somnath that Advani had embarked on his Ram Rath Yatra in 1990.
“It was during Keshbhai’s stewardship that guest houses like Sagar Darshan Atithigruh, Lilavati Atithigruh, Maheshwari Samaj Atitigruh have come up. He also oversaw construction of a Ram temple, development and beautification of the Somnath temple surroundings, development of Triveni Sangam and renovation of a few other important temples including Bhalka Tirth temple. In all, today, the guest houses of SKT have 400 rooms. He used to also remain concerned about common pilgrims and therefore got a 350-bed dormitory, where one can stay for Rs 99 only. It was also his idea to begin the tradition of serving prasad of bundi-ganthiya to pilgrims,” Vijaysinh Chavda, general manager of SKT told The Indian Express, adding, “while he at the helm of affairs, the temple has received around 120 kg of gold in donation.”
Chavda said that Keshubhai himself was a big devotee of Lord Shiva. “Since the lockdown began in the wake of Covid-19 outbreak in March this year, he was not able to visit Somnath temple to have darshan of Lord Shiva. Therefore, he launched the service for devotees to offer pooja through video calls. He himself performed pooja through this facility on his birthday in July this year,” Chavda added.
Laheri also reminisced about Keshubhai’s contribution in development, especially of rural areas, during his tenure as chief minister. “Keshubhai was a leader who spent more than 65 years in public life in Gujarat. He was known for his pragmatism… He was instrumental in ushering in so many schemes in rural development…”
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