As the political turbulence set off by former Union minister Kumari Selja’s remarks refused to subside in Delhi, the storm created ripples of disbelief at the Dwarkadhish shrine in Bet Dwarka, an island off Okha coast in Gujarat’s Devbhoomi Dwarka district. The tirth purohits, or pandas, who show pilgrims around the temple, said they felt “deeply hurt” by the controversy surrounding the temple.
Asked if he seeks to know the caste of any visitor, Pragnesh Vayda, a purohit, said yes, but only from those who wish to offer pooja or do pitra-tarpan (a ritual performed for the departed souls).
“There are around 300 purohits here… We have divided caste groups among ourselves. In order to know whose yajman (host or client) a devotee is, we need to know his caste. This is our arrangement. It is not meant to humiliate anybody… To do pooja and tarpan one has to take sankalp as it ensures success of the ritual. For proper sankalp, we need to know the gotra of the devotee and this is when we ask about caste,” he said.
Uday Vayda, a senior purohit and the one who had led Selja at the temple jointly with Tarunbhai Padh, said: “She is a noble person…But she seems to be misguided. As a matter of practice, we don’t ask caste of high profile visitors. She was in great hurry and kept on telling us ‘very quick, very quick’. When she made the donation, we could not even perform the sankalp ritual, so there’s no question of asking about her caste,” said the 45-year-old priest, adding that he was “deeply hurt” by the recent developments. “She was a guest of Lord Krishna and was treated with utmost respect…But, we shall not criticise her as this will give bad name to Lord Krishna,” he said.
Tarunbhai, who led her during the darshan, told The Indian Express, “I received her at the landing platform in Bet Dwarka, took her for darshan to the temple …and saw her off. Nobody asked her about her caste all this while. If somebody did while she was making a donation at the seat of Sudama in Satyabhama temple, then I don’t know as I had slipped a little away by that time. It’s possible that somebody might have asked her personal assistant or her staff…”
Interestingly, there’s no record available of Selja’s donation in Bet Dwarka . Unlike the Devasthan Samiti of Dwarkadhish temple in Dwarka town, Shree Dwarkadhish Charitable Trust of Bet Dwarka does not maintain a visitors’ diary. Pandas keep records of donations but consign them to Holika every year.