“Cleanliness is the Hallmark of perfect standards and the best quality inspector is the conscience.”
J. R. D. Tata
I recently visited kashi Vishwanath Mandir at Varanasi and was enamored with the kind of work done and efforts by the government to create the corridor which was kept very clean.
The city is a center of learning and civilization for over 3000 years.
Mark Twain, who was enthralled by the legend and sanctity of Banaras, wrote -“Banaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together”.
I had not visited this before therefore I can only visualize how things were earlier by people I spoke to and our guide who seemed to be very clued up about this monument. It was a small constricted place where visitors had to walk through small, narrow unkempt lanes (gullies).
The area around the main temple had hundreds of small houses and shops built over hundreds of years. The Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi wanted to make this as shining, well developed place of worship. He wanted the temple easily accessible and a corridor to be built from temple right up to the river Ganga where people like to go to and many bathe in the river as part of their faith. The Kashi Vishwanath Temple Corridor project now connects the iconic Kashi Vishwanath temple and the ghats along the river Ganga. This grand plan would cost Rs 800 crores and several things had to be done almost in parallel to finish it on time. The project, foundation stone for which was laid in 2019 and I visited in the beginning of 2023 to witness this grand corridor which was absolutely breath taking experience.
The most difficult must have been the acquisition of existing properties occupied by people for hundreds of years. Convincing them and giving them an amicably acceptable compensation must have been a herculean task. People must appreciate this effort which seems to be invisible but is the most tangible outcome of this project.
The project involved purchase and acquisitions of more than 300 properties around the temple. The rehabilitation of around 1400 shopkeepers, tenants and homeowners were done amicably.
During the process of demolition of the old properties, more than 40 ancient temples were rediscovered. These temples have been restored and beautified, while ensuring that there is no change in the original structure.
From a mere 2,700 sq ft in 2019 and prior to that, the temple complex is now a sprawling compound measuring upwards of 5 lakh sq ft, connecting the Ganga at Lalita Ghat, where a jetty is expected to come up. The facelift is so very grand and ethnic from a generous use of red sandstone, Kota granite and Makrana marble. Only a few hundred people at a time could be accommodated earlier, the complex can now take in more than 75,000 people at a time. The length of the temple corridor starting from the ghats to the temple is 400m, with a width of 75m, which is more than four football fields put together.
Earlier, devotees mostly used to enter the temple from the Godolia and Saraswati gates. Now it is planned that people should also be able to come by boat on river Ganga and walk up the corridor to get a different experience. Escalators that can be used by anyone coming from the riverfront via dock boats to reach the temple are being built for the elderly.
They will also cater for a variety of facilities to the pilgrims visiting the Temple, including Yatri Suvidha Kendras, Tourist Facilitation Centre, Vedic Kendra, Mumukshu Bhavan, Bhogshala, City Museum, Viewing Gallery, Food Court, among others.
Now the upkeep
With so much political will and money and effort of thousands of workers working almost round the clock invested in this grand project, we have something to be proud of.
This is what the hardware part is. The challenge begins now. How to keep it spick and span, going forward? This is a software part which needs to function 24 hours a day. The biggest challenge is the huge footfall everyday which runs into thousands and lacs sometimes on certain occasions a million.
Usually our temples are dirty and ill maintained. The reason is lack of understanding, focus, and priority and will to do it. If we look at ‘swatch bharat Abhiyan’ which was like a movement started by the Prime Minister, people were skeptical about it. But people participated whole heartedly and made it a success.
“This is not about Modi… Modi is only one of its 1.4 billion people… This is a people’s task.” Said the PM
How to do it?
If can clean up a nation, cleaning temples in good shape, neat and clean should not be difficult. We need to make it a red hot priority and take some firm steps.
The following must be done.
- There should be a mandatory program for ‘hygiene and sanitation’ for all the priests that should include a minimum acceptable bench mark of cleanliness, dressing up neatly and looking good and convincing to a devotee. They should command respect and not demand respect as custodians of God and places of worship. A bit of humility needs to be added as a part of training. We are teaching only the cleanliness part and nothing to do with religion, else it will be shot down and will not take off. A two week program can be designed and conducted across all the temples across the country.
- We could have a panel of experts to give sanitation points and adjust top ten cleanest temples. The temples outer walls and portions that need painting must be painted every year.
- Governments can involve ten largest manufacturers of paints to do this as a CSR activity with necessary built in concessions. Let them put up a placard ‘maintained by- xyz’. Let them also earn goodwill.
- The visitors must be shown a short two minute video clip before getting an entry. This should tell them dos and don’ts and how to contribute in keeping the place clean. Unfortunately this is the biggest problem with the visitors.
- If you are not clean, your temple is not neat and clean then how can your ‘Astha’ (belief) be clean?
- It has to be public- private- Godly (PPG) partnership!
- The district administration should be responsible to ensure this happens.
- The priests and head priests must be held accountable.
- There can be an online feedback only for cleanliness of the temple visited.
- The images of gods and goddesses painted around the temples as of today are of poor quality. Proper painters and artists must be involved to give a professional and convincing look to these images.
Do we have any role models?
Yes we have plenty.
The largest papal church in the world,St. Peter’s Basilica
In Vatican City spanning over an astounding 23,000 square meters is a place that I have visited. This is also a grand place of worship.
Saint Peter’s Square is the large open space in front of the church.The dimensions of the square are spectacular-320 meters long and 240 meters wide. Almost 8 lac square feet of space. It is kept spotlessly neat and clean. The Vatican sends more than 100 specially trained cleaning personnel through the buildings on several shifts in accordance with a strict schedule.
In 1508, Pope Julius II (reigned 1503-1513) hired Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the chapel. Michelangelo rose to the task to create one of the masterpieces of Western art. The ceiling program, which was probably formulated with the help of a theologian from the Vatican, is created around several scenes from the Old Testament beginning with the Creation of the World and ending at the story of Noah and the Flood. It took the artist more than four years to complete this!
The entire church and surrounding areas is very clean. Thousands visit this every day.
Radha Soami Satsang Beas
It is a spiritual organization in Radha Soami movement. It is headed by Gurinder Singh. The main Centre is located on the banks of the Beas River in the northern Indian state of Punjab.
Around 20,000 devotees generally stay overnight at the satsang complex. The floor, cushioned with jute matting, can seat up to 500,000 people at a time.
This place has to be seen to be believed for its commitment, cleanliness and hygiene. The Radha Soami Satsang’s dera at Beas served 19.81 million meals in 2017-18, with an average 54,274 meals per day.
The entire campus is very clean at all times. This is where devotees are involved in volunteering to cook and clean. This is true spiritual private partnership.
Varanasi or Banaras is a “galiyon ka shahar (city of lanes)” and a lot more needs to be done to clean up the city- and keep it clean always and every time. Over a period of centuries a culture has developed where people don’t bother about filth around them.
To change culture of people is the most difficult task and a challenge for the society which society alone can solve. Let us not depend only on Modi ji and Yogi ji- they have done an incredible job.
Now it is your turn and payback time.
“Cleaning up the country cannot be the sole responsibility of sanitation workers. Do citizens have no role in this? We have to change this mindset,”