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HC says no to rath climb
- Asks temple body to abide by Shankaracharya’s opinion

File picture of devotees climbing a rath during last year’s car festival

Cuttack/Bhubaneswar, June 20: Orissa High Court today asked the Jagannath temple administration to abide by the Puri Shankaracharya’s opinion that devotees cannot climb the chariots and touch the deities during the annual rath yatra in Puri.

“Any contrary opinion of the state government will obviously be in-operative,” the division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Goel and Justice A.K. Rath ruled, while clarifying that the correctness of the opinion of the Shankaracharya “is neither subject matter for consideration of state government nor before this court”.

“The state government may, however, perform its duty of maintaining law and order and provide all necessary assistance for smooth conduct of the car festival in accordance with the decision of the managing committee on the issue of rituals which is based on opinion of HH Shankaracharya, Puri,” the court said while disposing of a PIL.

The issue has generated a lot of controversy during the past one week bringing the Shankaracharya into virtual confrontation with the daitapatis of the 12th century Jagannath temple in Puri.

The decision of the court was hailed by a spokesperson for Govardhan Peetha, the seat of the Shankaracharya. Puri king Gajpati Dibyasingha Deb hoped that court order would be followed.

However, Ramkrushna Das Mohapatra, who is the president of the Daitapati Niyog, threatened to move the Supreme Court against today’s order.

“We have called for an emergency meeting tonight. We will discuss the high court order,” said Das Mohapatra.

The PIL was filed by Bhabani Prasad Mishra, 64, a resident of Angul town, who had sought the direction to implement the decision of the temple managing committee on the issue of climbing the chariots during this year’s car festival.

The temple managing committee had taken the decision on the basis of the opinion of the Shankaracharya that “none other than the sevaks (who perform rituals or seva-puja on the chariots during ratha yatra) — the Shankaracharya and the Gajapati Maharaja — are authorised to climb on to the chariots”.

The managing committee had referred the matter to the state government to guide the Jagannath Temple Administration for implementation of the decision.

The state government had on June 11 decided that devotees will not be allowed atop the chariots on the rath yatra day, during bahuda yatra (the return journey of the chariots) and suna vesha (golden attire).

However, the daitapatis had clarified that during the evening hours of rath yatra and bahuda yatra, the devotees will be allowed onto the chariots. Devotees could also climb the chariot once the golden attire of the Lord was taken off, the daitapatis had said.

The government, however, kept mum on this interpretation that had sparked off the controversy.

With the issue generating heat in the Assembly, Speaker Niranjan Pujari convened an all-party meeting on June 18. To resolve the issue, the meeting decided to constitute a committee headed by Puri MLA Maheshwar Mohanty. Today the committee met and decided to comply with the court order.


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