Recently, defence minister Rajnath Singh came under fire for performing 'Shastra Puja' while taking symbolic delivery of the first of the 36 Rafale jets in the French port city of Bordeaux. Singh took to Twitter to share photographs of the ceremony online. He offered flowers and coconut and wrote Om on the jet before going on for a sortie on the aircraft.
"Performed Shastra puja on the auspicious occasion of Vijayadashami. Worshipping weapons on Vijayadashami has been our tradition," he wrote on Twitter.
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" Rajnath Singh (@rajnathsingh) October 8, 2019
Singh accepted the symbolic handover at the facility of Rafale manufacturer Dassault Aviation, in the presence of the French minister of Armed Forces. Other members of top military brass of France, senior officials of Dassault Aviation and the manufacturers of the Rafale jets were also present during the Shastra Puja ceremony.
Coincidentally, the ceremony was on the same day as the foundation ceremony of the Indian Air Force.
Shashtra Puja or Ayudha Puja is the worship of weapons or tools that takes place on the ninth day of the Navaratri festival. It has been a part of Indian tradition for thousands of years. Rajput warrior-king Maharana Pratap used to perform this puja before going to war. On Vijayadashmi, keeping to the tradition, people perform the puja. It is also called Astra Puja, which is a synonym for Ayudha Puja. In simple terms, it means "worship of instruments". Basically, it is a day where people perform pujas of instruments and other items they use for their work " from laptops to books to even pens, any tool a person uses as a part of their profession is worshipped.
While the Twitterati had a field day sharing their wittiest thoughts about the home minister's gesture, under the hashtag #RafalePujaPolitics, some pointed out it was an imposition of 'Hindu customs'.
Historically, the Indian armed forces, especially the infantry, have had an age-old custom of performing puja to mark an occasion or while inducting new weapons and military, even before the British times.
Singh's Shastra Puja of Rafale jet was also not the first time puja of an aircraft was performed in India. In 2016, when the light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas formed its first squadron for the Indian Air Force (IAF), multi-religious ceremonies were held, reported ANI. A Maulana, a Hindu priest, a Sikh priest and a Christian priest were present during the induction ceremony to bless the aircraft.
Multi-religious prayer ceremonies being held at the induction ceremony of Tejas aircraft into the Indian Air Force pic.twitter.com/ThqsVq537S
" ANI (@ANI) July 1, 2016
In 2013, India's first indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant was launched at Cochin Shipyard Limited by then defence minister (in Atal Bihari Vajpayee government) AK Antony's wife Elizabeth Antony. She was seen breaking a coconut and blessing the warship by drawing a small cross amid the showering of flower petals and release of tricolour balloons.
Former Defence Minister A.K Anthony's wife Elizabeth drew a cross on INS Vikrant and Baptised it during its launch.... no one had any problem.. Hallelujah!!! pic.twitter.com/34nauFgRid
" DÃ³n Grieshnak (@DGrieshnak) October 9, 2019
India is also not the only country in the world to conduct such religious ceremonies before the inauguration of a defence weapon. Russia is one such country that too performs religious ceremonies to inaugurate its defence weapons.
According to a report in The Telegraph, for the past few years, priests of the Russian Orthodox Church have been seen chanting prayers and casting holy water on arms like S-400 surface-to-air missiles in Crimea and intercontinental and short-range ballistic missiles taking part in the victory day parades. They have also 'blessed' assault rifles, fighter jets and nuclear submarines in the past.
According to the report, these priests were known to have blessed swords before the victory over the Golden Horder at Kulikovo and tanks during the Second World War. In the 1990s, priests were even rumoured to have blessed gangsters' pistols.
However, the Russian Orthodox Church has been reconsidering the popular practice of priests blessing weapons including nuclear missiles. A document drafted by a commission on church law had recommended that the clergy perform benedictions for soldiers rather than military equipment, the report said.
With inputs from agencies