Much has been said, written and debated about Mahatma Gandhi, the ‘apostle’ of peace and harmony in modern India. Though some may like to differ, he is even metaphorically called the ‘Kaliyuga daivam’ by many of his trusted followers. Giving wings to these sobriquets for the father of the nation is a tiny village in Telangana that has built a temple for him.
Chityal, a sleepy village in Nalgonda district, about 70 kms from Hyderabad, has built a modern "God", an idol of Gandhi, chiselled in Kanchi black stone and wrapped in a white cloth. He's depicted to be in a sitting posture, giving divine blessing to the devotees. What makes it truly stand apart from Hindu idols is that this modern "God" does not carry a weapon. You know why!
Run by the Mahatma Gandhi Charitable Trust, the temple was inaugurated by the Energy Minister G Jagadishwar Reddy in 2015. Even though Gandhi preached ideals of simple and humble living, the temple sits in the lap of a five-acre plot, close to the Hyderabad-Vijayawada National Highway.
The temple in itself is a two-storeyed building with the idol installed in the meditation room on the ground floor. There is also a gyana mandir on the first floor where the priests deliver discourses for devotees.
Another Mahatma statue in the meditation hall is made of white marble specially brought from Rajasthan (count figures in crores). Here, the Mahatma is seated in a yogic posture.
There is also a ‘wheel of dharma’ and a 32-ft Dhwaja Stambha (flag pole) standing outside the mandap (porch).
The temple has hymns written by experts for Gandhi devotees who chant ‘Vande Devam, Vande Bapu, Vande Gandhi’ as they queue up for darshan and Gandhi puja.
It also has soil from 30 holy places of Varanasi, Amritsar, Tirupati and Haridwar. Also, reflecting the Gandhian philosophy that all religions are equal, holy books of all religions are made available in the meditation centre.
“Gandhi is a symbol of ahimsa and compassion. No other personality in India has influenced the thinking of the people as Mahatma did. We wanted to perpetuate the ideals of Mahatma by building a temple for him. It is a fitting tribute to a man who became Mahatma,” the temple administration says.
The temple shrine is open from 6.30 am to 8.30 pm for the devotees.The two temple priests perform pujas as per request. From seeking blessings to attaining salvation under "God" Gandhi, devotees even get pujas performed for their new vehicles.
Though there is no hundi (offering box) in the temple, devotees are charged separately for different pujas.
Having a dedicated page on Twitter under the name ‘Gandhi the God’, it poses questions to its audience. “If Mahatma Gandhi could liberate 330 millions in 1947, why can’t he liberate us from our sins? He is Christ reborn, the Buddha reincarnated and Lord Vishnu’s Dasama Avatara,” the page reads. It also narrates snippets from Gandhi’s life that made ‘Bala Gandhi’ a "divine" child.
Besides performing special pujas on October 2, Gandhi Jayanti, a district-wide quiz and essay writing competitions are conducted by the Mahatma Gandhi Charitable Trust for school students on the ‘divinity of Gandhi’ every year.
But many in the area call the temple a ploy by local politicians to grab government land. “The temple stands in four and a half acres of government land. Often, the temple is shut and there is no priest to do the worship. The temple teems with people only when a politician or a local leader visits it. The politicians have grabbed this prime land next to NH 65,” says Mallesh Yadav, a Chityal resident.
Believers, however, claim that Chityal has witnessed miracles after the temple was set up 3 years ago. “Earlier, this entire curve of the national highway was an accident-prone zone - at least 150 people died every year in accidents. But, after the temple came up, the accidents have now come down by 90 per cent."