Chief minister Naveen Patnaik at the rath yatra review meeting in Puri. Picture by Sarat Patra
Puri, June 22: Servitors of the Jagannath temple appeared to be in a mood for a confrontation with the temple administration on the issue of devotees climbing onto the chariots during rath yatra.
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik, who was in Puri today to review preparatory arrangements for the festival scheduled to be held on June 29, also got a taste of the servitors’ anger as they kept seeking answers to their queries on the issue and even questioned the right of the Shankaracharya to climb the chariots before they are pulled by the devotees. They blamed the temple administration for the current controversy.
Naveen, who had never faced such a hostile atmosphere during his last 14 years as chief minister, kept quiet for nearly 40 minutes when the servitors fired one question after another. They sought to know as to why should they be deprived of their rights that they had been enjoying for generations.
The servitors asked the temple administration to tell them who all would be allowed to climb the chariots.
“As per the record of rights (ROR), the document that describe duties, rights and rituals of individuals associated with the temple, even the Shankaracharya is not allowed to climb the chariots. The government should initiate steps to bar him,” said an agitated servitor.
A section of sevayats wanted Puri King Gajapati Dibyasingha Deb, chairman of the temple management committee, to be summoned to the meeting to elaborate his stand on the issue of touching the deities. The Shankaracharya had said that touching idols “is a Mahapap (sin)”.
As the situation threatened to go out of control, Puri MLA Maheswar Mohanty, law minister Arun Sahu, tourism and culture minister Ashok Panda, food and consumer welfare minister Sanjay Das Burma and district collector Dhiren Patnaik tried to pacify them.
Law minister Sahu announced that another committee would be constituted to look into all issues and a meeting would be convened shortly.
“We will finalise the list of people who will be allowed to be on the chariots during the rituals,” said Sahu.
The temple administration had sought the opinion of the Shankaracharya on the issue following untoward incidents in which two foreign nationals were manhandled on the chariots during the festival in 2012 and 2013. On November 5, 2013, the Shankaracharya had said that none except the “sevaks” associated with the rituals should be allowed on the chariots. Following differences of opinion between the servitors, the temple administration and the state government, Orissa High Court on June 20 had ruled that the authorities must abide by the opinion of the Shankaracharya and not allow devotees on the chariots. The court has directed the state government to make adequate arrangements to ensure that the decision of the Shankaracharya was adhered to.
Chief administrator of the temple Arvind Padhee said: “The court’s decision would be followed. Only sevayats who are entitled to climb the chariots as per the ROR will be allowed.”
President of Daitapaiti Niyog, a group of servitors who are associated with the rituals during rath yatra, Ramkrushna Das Mohapatra said: “The chief minister should personally look into the day-to-day affairs leading to rath yatra and the Nabakalabar to ensure that every thing passes off smoothly. If the government leaves it to the temple administration, there would be a chaos.”
The meeting also deliberated on issues relating to safety and security of devotees, health and sanitation, communication, traffic control, supply of electricity and drinking water during the rath yatra.
Director general of police Prakash Mishra said: “Adequate security arrangements have been made to conduct the rath yatra peacefully.” Nearly 115 platoons of police force will be deployed in Puri during the festival.
“A special team will be constituted to inspect all the hotels, guest houses and dharmashalas. The Coast Guard will deploy its chopper and ships near the Puri coast to ensure coastal security during the rath yatra,” said Puri police chief Anup Sahu.