Varanasi: Pollution so bad even Bholenath needs a mask

Bholenath, the same deity who drank poison and stored it in his throat to protect everyone else is now being kept “safe” in Varanasi by means of an anti-pollution mask. The Shivling at the Tarkeshwar Mahadev Temple in Varanasi has been covered with a mask to save the deity from "this poisonous air", the logic being that if 'Bhole Baba' is safe, they will be too.

As the story goes, Lord Vishnu suggested that the gods churn the ocean and drink the nectar of immortality to regain their glory. Declaring a truce with the demons, the gods combined their strength to obtain the elixir. Vasuki the serpent was used as a churning rope and mount Mandara as the churning staff. From within the ocean, along with gems came 'halahala' a dangerous poison. The gods then sought the help of Lord Shiva for help, and he swallowed the poison and stored it in his throat.

He is not alone. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's constituency now has deities including Lord Shiva, Goddess Durga, Goddess Kali and Sai Baba covered by a mask.

There is, of course, the secondary question of whether gods, especially one who can consume even the most destructive and potent of poisons, can be brought down by air pollution, but as Harish Mishra, a priest at the Shiv-Parvati temple in downtown Sigra told IANS, "Looking at the covered faces of their deities, many devotees visiting the temple have also started wearing anti-pollution masks."

"Varanasi is a place of belief. We treat our idols as living deities and take pains to make them happy and comfortable. In summer, the idols are slathered with sandalwood paste to keep them cool and in winter, we cover them in woollens. Likewise, to save them from pollution, we have put masks on their faces," he explains.

(With inputs from agencies)