File picture of devotees climbing onto Lord Jagannath’s chariot during rath yatra
Bhubaneswar/Cuttack, June 19: The committee constituted following an all-party meeting to resolve the contentious issue of devotees being allowed onto the chariots during rath yatra has decided to wait for Orissa High Court’s decision on the matter before taking a stand.
The court will start hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) on the issue tomorrow.
“Our advocate general told the committee that the high court has accepted a PIL on the issue and will hear the matter tomorrow. We will wait for the court’s stand before taking a decision,” said Maheshwar Mohanty, former law minister and Puri MLA, who is heading the committee.
Acting on the PIL filed by Bhabani Prasad Mishra, 64, of Angul town, the high court today directed the state government to clarify its stand on Puri Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati’s recommendation to the temple administration on debarring devotees from mounting the chariots during the rath yatra.
The petitioner has sought the court’s direction to the state government to implement the decision of the Shankaracharya on the issue of devotees climbing onto the chariots as “he is the final arbiter in case of any dispute relating to rituals of the deities of Puri Jagannath temple.” The court also directed the temple administration to clarify its stand.
Petitioner’ counsel Arun Kumar Budhia told The Telegraph: “The division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Goel and Justice A.K. Rath today adjourned the matter till tomorrow for hearing along with responses from the state government and temple administration.”
Though the state counsel sought more time to submit its reply, the court said the petition would be taken up for hearing as the first case tomorrow.
Following a request of the temple administration, Shankarachrya had said in November last that “the tradition associated with the temple forbids devotees, both Hindu and non-Hindu alike, from climbing onto the raths to have darshan of the deities or to touch them. Only sevaks (servitors) connected with seva puja of the deities on that day are authorised to climb onto the chariots to perform necessary rituals.”
However, the servitors have taken exception to the Shankaracharya’s stand. They have threatened not to cooperate with the administration during the rath yatra if the devotees are not allowed to climb the chariots.
As the issue snowballed into a controversy, law minister Arun Sahu had convened a meeting on June 11 to find an amicable solution.
At the meeting, it was decided that the devotees would not be allowed to climb the chariots during the day on rath yatra, bahuda yatra (return journey) and suna veshas. However, the devotees can climb the chariots on rath yatra and bahuda yatra after evening and during suna vesha only after the golden attire of the deities is removed.
On other days, the devotees can climb the chariots.
However, the decision sparked off a controversy as it was perceived to have violated the spirit of the recommendation of Shankarcharya.
Following an uproar in the state Assembly, which is in session, Speaker Niranjan Pujari convened an all-party meeting on Wednesday. The meeting decided to constitute a committee under the chairmanship of former law minister and Puri MLA Maheswar Mohanty to resolve the issue.
BJP state unit chief, K.V. Singh Deo today, however, said: “The committee has turned out to be one of the ruling party. The MLA and MP from Puri, the present and former administrators of the temple are its members. One cannot have any expectation from the committee. The recommendation of Shankaracharya is final. No disrespect should be shown towards him,” said Singh Deo.
Joining the controversy, excise minister and senior BJD leader Damodar Rout said: “Shankaracharya is the guru of the Hindu community. When the Pope says anything in the Vatican City, it is adhered by crores of disciples across the globe. Why should not Shankaracharya command the same respect among the Hindus?”
Stating that it was his personal view, Rout said: “Some servitors want the practice of people climbing the chariots to continue as it is a rich sources of income for them. They won’t discontinue this at any cost. But they should not ignore the advice of Puri King Gajapati Dibya Singh Deb, who is considered as the living representative of the Lord Jagannath. He, too, has opined against devotees going up the chariots during the rath yatra.”
Rout’s remark has drawn angry reactions form the temple servitors. “He should not talk in this vein. Let him clarify if he ever paid any money to any servitor for climbing onto the chariots,” said one of the daitapatis.