AWAY from the heat and dust of the trial in Delhi, Ram Lalla and his brothers, Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrughan, enshrined at the makeshift temple at the Ram Janmabhoomi site in Ayodhya, have just got a payhike.
The idols get a daily bath, followed by prasad, chandan and garlands, with at least 16 items used in the pooja. There is also a cooler and blower, depending on the season, inside the temple, while on Ram Navami, each of the gods gets seven sets of new clothes. All of this takes the cost of Ram Lalla’s daily maintenance to Rs 1,000. For several years, the temple staff had been seeking a hike, and last month, the Uttar Pradesh government increased it from Rs 26,200 to Rs 30,000 per month — the biggest increase since 1992.
Salary of Mahant Satyendra Das, the chief priest of the temple, has been increased by Rs 1,000, making it Rs 13,000 per month, and the salaries of around eight other staff members, who earned between Rs 7,500 to Rs 10,000 every month, have gone up by Rs 500.
“We have been demanding this for a very long time… The increase will now help us in conducting our daily chores better, including bathing the gods, arranging for prasad, food, water and electricity,” says Das, who has been the head priest since March 1992.
Das says that the previous amount was not enough, “and on many occasions we had to spend money out of own pockets”. “We didn’t have enough funds to purchase all the essentials. We have to also pay the gardener, ration shops, buy sweets,” he says.
At the Ram Janmabhoomi site in Ayodhya, nearly 400 tourists brave five rounds of security checks to get a glimpse of Ram Lalla — only a transparent packet of prasad is allowed past the metal barricades that begin around a kilometre from the actual site.
While their salary demand has been met, Das has another request: “We get new clothes for the gods only once a year. It should be done at least four times.”
Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s regional spokesperson Sharad Sharma supports Das’s demand, but admits that “with several devotees offering clothes to Ram Lalla, things have become a little easier for the temple staff”.
“With the matter in court, there are a lot of restrictions here. So far we have been taking all our demands to the ‘receiver’. Last winter, we sought a blower for Ram Lalla since it was very cold. It was accepted. There’s a cooler in summer too,” he says.
Ayodhya Divisional Commissioner Manoj Mishra, the ‘receiver’ of the makeshift temple, says the recent hike “is in accordance with the rules set by the Supreme Court and does not disturb the status quo in the case”.
Another priest, who did not wish to be identified, says they do nothing “extra” with the funds meant for the temple. “Like at the other Ram temples, here too we simply follow all the traditions of worship,” he says.
The temple gets Rs 6 lakh in offerings every month. “The amount is deposited in a separate bank account which is owned by the government,” says Sharma.
The makeshift temple opens at 7 am, and devotees are allowed to worship till 11 am, after which Ram Lalla is served bhog. It is then shut at noon for the deities’ afternoon nap and reopens from 2 to 6 pm. There is pooja again, before the temple finally closes at 8 pm.
The hike, concludes Das, “is not about money but service of Bhagwan Ram”. “That is what I have been doing all these years,” he says.