• Reforms in Sri Jagannath Temple Management on Priority

By Nilambar Rath

Sri Jagannath Temple has been pulling millions of devotees and visitors to Puri, a small town in the east coast of India. If we go by statistics, this has become the second largest destination in religious tourism after Tirupati Balaji. Apart from inland visitors, numbers of foreign nationals do visit the town around the year. Especially, during the time of Rath Yatra, the annual car festival of the deities, over five million visitors throng to this city of Lord Jagannath.

Unfortunately, every year Rath Yatra has been in news headlines for man-made issues. At times it seems the Govt. and the local Administration does not have any control over ‘Sevayats’ who are authorized to perform different ‘sevas’ & ‘nitis’ (predefined rituals of the deities) at Sri Jagannath Temple. Especially, during the Car Festival, when the deities are taken out of the main Shrine to another temple and brought back after 7 days, some of the ‘sevayats’ create disturbances and do not hesitate to break the rules and traditions. Sometimes, they take the issue to such a height that they openly violate the discipline and challenge the Administration. Moreover, they do not bother about the spiritual feelings of millions of devotees worldwide and the people of Odisha, in general.

Every year, before and during Rath Yatra, many rounds of confrontation take place between different stake holders. At times the issues are being settled after intervention by the Judiciary. Most of the time, when the ‘sevayats’ try to showcase their strengths and present themselves as the ‘Superpower’, the Govt. and local administration want to play a ‘safe game’. Also in many cases, the Gajapati (successor of the King of Puri who also happens to be the Chairman of the Temple Administration) and the Sankaracharya of Govardhan Math, Puri makes statement upon arising of issues. However, their voices become feeble to face the audacity of the other stake holders.

During 2016 Rath Yatra, the history was repeated. At least in two cases, one in front of Sri Gundicha Temple during onward Car Festival and the other in front of Sri Mandir on ‘Niladri Bije’ occasion, 2 ‘sevayats’ openly broke the rule and escorted their family members and touched the deities. Especially on Niladri Bije it happened in front of all the top officials of the Govt. Unfortunately, when the local Collector and DM tried to show the path to the erring ‘sevayat’, he got humiliation in return. Some other ‘sevayats’ joined with the rule-breaker and man handling the officer. Even the media was also not escaped from the unruly and self styled traditional ‘sevayats’ of Lord Jagannath.

During 2015 Nabakalebar, the situation was still worse. Especially on the night of ‘Bramha Parivartana’ (shifting of the divine particle from the old bodies of the deities to the new bodies), some of the ‘sevayats’ broke all the traditions and rules and fought with each other inside the temple. The spiritual event was thus delayed by more than 12 hours. At that time, though the Govt. tried to save its face by taking some action against a few ‘sevayats’, nothing much happened in bringing proper order in Temple administration.

For decades together, the management of Sri Jagannath Temple administration, especially, the behavior of the sevayats has been a question in public. But no Govt. as such had dared to take drastic steps to bring discipline the ‘sevayats’. Earlier, the Temple Administration was escalated and given more power by appointing an IAS rank officer as the Chief Temple Administrator, with a hope to bring a 360 change. But it has again proved that due to lack of strong political message no administration as such is being able to handle the nuisance makers!

It has been a point of discussion, to manage Puri temple in the line of Tirupati Balaji. The idea is to completely discipline all the stake holders in terms of their roles and responsibilities and a proper reward and punishment mechanism. But this has become a media debate and a drawing room discussion for over decades. The ‘sevayats’ who claim their powers under the ‘Record of Rights’ has become the major challenge for the administration to invade in to the Pandoras box. No Chief Minister or the Minister of Law (Sri Jagannath Temple Admin. comes under the per view of Law Department, Govt. of Odisha) has ever taken a bold step to bring a drastic change in the present system.

After the recent hue and cry, the Govt. has ordered a Judicial Commission to probe into the matter and recommend the Govt. on how to bring order in the subject. We should welcome the step of the Govt. However, no such commission would yield any result unless the Govt. has the pure intention in bring some visible reforms and demonstrate a long term solution for the carcinogenic issues.

Justice B P Das, single member Commission has been assigned to look into various issues which include proper implementation of day to day ‘sevas’ and ‘nitis’, bring discipline among the ‘sevayats’, remuneration for the ‘sevayats’, providing different facilities to the devotees and visitors, protection of monuments, security of the Temple, etc. So it seems not an easy task for the Commission to dip into the issues and come out with strong recommendations. Moreover, it is again going to be a challenge for the Govt. to implement the recommendations which are certainly not going to be very friendly for many of the stake holders, especially some of the unruly and self-styled ‘sevayats’.

Whether we accept or not, over the years, the temple management has failed in handling the ‘sevayats’ and their tantrums at Puri Temple. As a result, the Puri Pandas have become infamous among many devotees and visitors who come from different parts of the country. It’s high time that the Govt. realizes this and brings all stake holders into task and makes them realize that Sri Jagannath Temple is not their parental property.

The world is changing and the human race is civilized every day. So nobody should be allowed to confuse people and manhandle their emotions in the name of God!

(The author is a senior Journalist and Columnist and the Founder & Editor of OdishaLIVE)

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