It also happens to be the scene of persistent, brutal gun violence between various factions of holy men.
… the sinister reality of Ayodhya. With bloody clashes over land disputes, murder of mahants [religious superiors, typically Hindu priests] and rape of minors, the “holy city” has turned into a living hell. … [M]any sadhus [wandering monks, usually yogis] are involved in criminal activities.
Most of the 7,000 temples and maths in Ayodhya have become centers of crime. Over the past few years, more than 250 sadhus have been booked for crimes, including murder; some have been killed in police encounters. …
The mahants of some temples are accused of illegally taking over the property of other temples, murdering their chief priests or expelling them by force. Many of Ayodhya’s “saints” are busy accumulating property.
Earthly possessions count, but status — as in, an official title — is just as desirable.
The main reason [for the violence] is greed for the title of mahant. “Many disciples are so impatient to get to the top that they cannot wait until the mahant is dead. They are ready to kill them,” says Sadhu Ram Narayan Das. Sheetla Singh, editor of the daily Jan Morcha, says many mahants have got their title after murdering their gurus. For instance, the mahant of Janaki Ghat Bada Sthan, Janmejai Sharan, was accused of the murder of his predecessor, Maithili Sharan Das. “Honor comes with money and power. Sadhus want all of it. And they want it fast,” says Singh.
Also fueling the bloodshed is — what else — rivalry of the theological kind.
“‘My god and my temple are more authentic than yours.’ That’s the mindset at work,” says Raghuvar Sharan, a sadhu.
Sometimes, murder is unnecessary, and a bribe will do. Praise Vishnu!
“A friend of mine was a priest in a temple. His guru passed away without appointing a successor and so a four-member selection committee was set up,” shares a local contractor. “My friend told me that he wanted to be the mahant even though there were other more deserving disciples. Two of the committee members were against him. I bought a new Nokia handset and approached one of them. I told him, ‘Only five sets of this model are in the market. I especially ordered the sixth one from abroad for you.’ When I told him that my friend wanted to be the mahant, he asked me to bring him a still newer version next time I came to see him. Finally, my friend was elected the mahant with three votes against one.”
Locals claim any sadhu can become a mahant by paying the right price. “The highest bidder gets the title,” says Mahant Yugal Kishore Shastri.
Murder or not, guns are usually part of the equation.
“There is a race among the sadhus for weapons and gunmen. Many of them have licensed pistols, though there is a greater demand for illegal weapons,” says a police officer. An intelligence officer claims that since the police do not search the temples, they have become the safest places to hide firearms. Many sadhus trade in illegal arms.
The rest of the article details illegal use of alcohol and narcotics among the clergy, plus sexual envy, cronyism, child rape, and, of course, baksheesh for the local cops.
Or, as it’s known in this most holy place, “business as usual.”