Bangalore: A Karnataka priest who is the head of Shiva temples in flood-ravaged Kedarnath and Ukhimath will rebuild amenities for thousands of pilgrims visiting the holy shrines in Uttarakhand.
Raval Jagadguru Bhimashankarlinga Shivacharya, 55, the 324th descended pontiff of the 5,000 year-old twin shrines, has set up the Kedarnath Vikas Committee to raise Rs.10 crore (Rs.100 million) for rebuilding infrastructure facilities - including roads - between Ukhimath and Kedarnath, transit homes for pilgrims, relief centres and hospitals.
"We have collected Rs.51 lakh within 24 hours of setting up the development committee. Hundreds of donors have generously contributed to the fund to take up the rebuilding work on priority basis before winter sets in there," committee secretary T.G. Mruthyanjaya told.
Recalling the natural calamity that wreaked havoc nearly a month ago (June 16-17), Shivacharya said except the temple precincts, the flood fury devastated everything else at Kedarnath though the damage was not so much at Ukhimath, 50 km away in Rudraprayag district of the northern mountainous state.
"I have never seen such a calamity nor heard about such a disaster striking the holy towns over the centuries. Though cloudbursts, heavy rains, snowfall and landslides are common in the Himalayan region, the scale and magnitude of this event was unprecedented," Shivacharya told.
As head pontiff (mathadhipath) of Kedar Peeta, Shivacharya appoints five priests to perform rituals, worship the Shiva lingas (idols) and offer prayers at both the shrines every year on rotation.
When the temple at Kedarnath is closed for six months from October to March every year due to severe winter, the idols are brought down to Ukhimath for rituals and worship and taken back during summer and rainy seasons for the remaining six months from April to September.
"As facilities within the temple premises at Kedarnath have all been damaged, the committee will also reconstruct rooms for priests, offices, book store, kitchen, rest rooms and a store room," the secretary said.
With thousands of pilgrims going to the four dhams (Uttarkashi, Kedarnath, Badrinath and Gangotri) via Haridwar and Rishikesh, the pontiff said a massive yatri niwas (travellers` inn) will be built at Rishikesh to house at least 1,000 people at a time.
"Rebuilding and restoring facilities will be taken up on war-footing as we have hardly three to four months before winter sets in when it becomes difficult to stay at Kedarnath. We are hoping more donors, charitable trusts, religious institutions and governments will contribute to our efforts," Shivacharya said.
He appealed to the central and Uttarkhand governments to constitute a national level Kedernath Development Authority (KDA) to renovate and restore the sanctity and glory of the Shiva temple there.
Thed authority shopuld also regulate flow of pilgrims to the temple town, remove all encroachments and illegal structures along river valleys - which compounded the natural disaster - and enforce stringent regulations for construction and other development activities to protect the fragile environment of the Himalayan region, he said.