Why the Disaster Happened At Kedarnath?

Hinduwebsite editorial

Kedarnath Temple

From The Editor's Desk

(Hinduwebsite Editorial - Exploring Truth Amidst Illusions and Distortions)


Many people died in 2013 due to the natural disaster near Kedarnath temple. The tragedy was that the people who died were mostly ardent devotees.

They came on a pilgrimage to pay respects to their beloved God, Shiva, without knowing that it would be their final journey (mahaprastanam) and their lives would be consumed in the fury of Nature.

Kedarnath temple has a long history. According to the legends, it was originally built by the Pandavas during the Mahabharata times and revered by Hindus as one of the 12 Jyotirlingas. It is also one of the four most sacred places of Hindus (char dham).

The current temple was said to have been built in the eighth century A.D., and visited by Sri Adi Shankaracharya. It is also one of the highest Hindu temples, located at a height of 11,755 ft.

The temple survived the ravages of the flood with minor damage, but many pilgrims who were resting near the temple died in sleep due to sudden landslides, mudslides and flash flood.

News reports indicated that that the incident shook the faith of many people in God’s ability to protect his own devotees, and some had even vowed never to visit the place again.

The tragedy raised an important question. Does God really care about his devotees? In the scriptures, he claims them to be his dearest souls, and he would reciprocate their love and rescue from the ocean of suffering.

Then why did he fail in case of the Kedarnath temple. How could people who visited a sacred temple or who went on a religious pilgrimage could meet with such a terrible fate? If God was indeed the protector, how could a tragedy of such magnitude would happen and why would he let it happen?

One of the Shankaracharyas said to have commented that it happened because Siva was angry with the ways of the world and the increasing sinful conduct of the people.

Now, surely Shiva did not speak to anyone about his anger or disappointment with people. It is difficult to believe that he would just pick one spot to punish people who were religious and devotee, ignoring the rest of the world where most sinners lived, who never bothered to show any devotion to any god or visited any temple. Therefore, whatever the blessed Shankaracharya said was mostly his conjecture or opinion, not a fact.

Another story was also circulated by the Media, according to which the Kedarnath tragedy happened because the authorities moved the statue of the goddess from one place to another place to perform some repairs to the temple.

The gods and goddesses of Hinduism, who belong to the higher planes of creation personify purity, love, compassion and the highest of the virtues. It is difficult to believe that they are susceptible to emotional instability, or experience negative emotions such as fear, anger, envy and frustration as the ordinary mortals.

Whatever emotion we may attribute to them, they are our own projections into our idea of them, not the reality. The Puranas are mostly works of fiction. Their purpose is to inculcate devotion and religiosit, provide spiritual guidance and help the devotees contemplate upon the splendor and greatness of gods the rather than present a, accurate chronological account of cosmic history.

Television serials may show them as emotional beings to attract the audience. They may show Shiva and Parvathi as ordinary householders weeping, crying or getting angry or annoyed for every small inconvenience. However, such depiction is completely unjustified. It makes no sense when you consider that Shiva as Isvara or the Lord of the Universe is a pure being who is made up of pure Sattva.

A lord of that stature, who rules over millions of worlds and beings of diverse names and forms, cannot be an unstable being, who is susceptible to human emotions and acts like humans. With such weaknesses he cannot ensure the order and regularity of the world.

It is an affront to godhood to believe that he would be so disturbed by the sins of the world that he would a pick a few thousand people who visited the Kedarnath temple on that fateful day to set an example to the rest of the world.

It does not even make sense a god of the stature of Shiva or Vishnu would punish humans for their conduct or sins for personal reasons when beings are meant to be ignorant, deluded and egoistic due to their ignorance, gunas or delusion or Maya.

Human beings are meant to be a mixture of good and evil. They are supposed to act in ignorant ways due to desires and attachments and remain bound to the mortal world and the cycle of births and deaths. They continue to do so birth after death, according to their karma and the laws of Nature until they cultivate discernment and become wiser.

Engaging in sinful behavior is natural in the mortal world. All beings are destined to be so, until they reach a certain degree of perfection and purification. Therefore, logically, gods will be annoyed if the mortals disobey the laws of Nature and try to escape from this world.

The Vedas indicate that our gods are displeased if humans engage defy them and try to engage in spiritual activity to achieve liberation. They are pleased only when the householders perform sacrifices and to nourish them with offerings. Just as we feel inconvenience if we cannot obtain food from plants and animals, they become unhappy if they do not receive offerings from humans or if they do not serve them ritual food.

Therefore, the idea that our gods act out of anger or displeasure and precipitate catastrophes is erroneous. Gods are meant to ensure order and regularity, not disrupt it. They help those who pray to them, but leave the beings mostly to themselves and their karma.

When adversity strikes, it is human to look for causes and feel overwhelmed with negative emotions or blame the factors which might have led to it. However, to blame God for such events is irrational. In some religions, God is considered responsible for everything. In Hinduism, there is no Judgment Day. Beings are responsible for their actions, unless they perform them with detachment and as an offering.

In Hinduism, the equation between people and God is rather contextual. God does not control our lives, unless we surrender to him completely and transcend duality and separation from him. Beings are subject to reward and punishment and judged according to their deeds. Unless we completely surrender to God and offer our lives and actions to him as a sacrifice, he remains indifferent to our actions and our lives.

Therefore, it is very inappropriate and ignorance to blame God or goddesses for the problems we face or the suffering we undergo upon earth. If we pray, our gods will probably help us. If we do not pray, they do not punish us. They remain indifferent. If we make mistakes, they let the law of karma to take care of it. Karma is the force which binds all beings to the world. We all are its prisoners. We are primarily responsible for our lives and for actions. We create our lives through our thoughts and desire-ridden actions. Therefore, when we suffer, we have to look within ourselves to find the causes.

Just as individual karma, collective karma arises from the collective actions of people. If more people, engage in evil actions and ignore their Dharma, chaos will prevail and suffering will intensify in the world. Thus, it is either individual karma or collective karma or both, which are responsible for suffering and catastrophic events.

Therefore, let us stop blaming Shiva or the gods for any tragedy or calamity. The Kedarnath event happened because of gross negligence by many institutions and authorities who were expected to prevent such tragedies through careful planning and prior preparation. They were not prepared for catastrophic events, and ill-equipped to deal with them when they happened.

In many ways, it was a manmade disaster. The loss of human lives was aggravated by human failure and inadequate arrangements. It is wrong blame God or any divine entity. Probably, if at all they intervened, they might have prevented a much bigger disaster.

Sometimes God wants to help us by sending clear messages to caution us of an impending problem or crisis, but we may not notice them due to our own weaknesses. Therefore, let us reflect upon the incident with humility and see what we can learn from it.

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