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They leave for home, business follows

July 7: Prashant Bisoi, the owner of the shoe stand near the Shree Gundicha temple, is staring at a huge loss of business as no devotees will visit the shrine after the departure of the Trinity and, therefore, the earnings will reduce or may even stop.

During these nine days when the deities reside at the Gundicha temple, people like Bisoi remain the happiest. “I have deposited Rs 2.5 lakh with the Puri Municipality to get the space for putting up the stand in front of the Gundicha temple. But after the deities leave for their original abode, there will hardly be any visitors here. The business will slump immediately,” he said.

Bisoi admitted that the going was good when the deities were in the Gundicha temple. “Though the number of devotees visiting the temple came down this time because of the stand-off between the servitors and the temple administration and subsequent adverse publicity, the profits were still good. But yes, we could have earned more had the confrontation not been publicised so much,” he said. Bisoi had engaged nearly 20 people to manage the shoe stand round the clock. He used to charge Rs 10 for a pair of shoes and a mobile phone.

While it was a loss of business for Bisoi, it’s time for the roadside street hawkers to shift their business from the Gundicha to the main shrine, 2km away. “The nine-day car festival is an opportunity to earn some money,” said Abid Ahmad, who sold balloon and toys near the Gundicha and will now move base to the Jagannath temple. Like Abid, around 100 others are selling these items.

Abid hails from Midnapur district in Bengal. “I have been coming here every year for the past 20 years. Every time I make good money, earning nothing less than Rs 1,000 a day. But as the chariots are moving from the Gundicha, I have to shift my base and move to the main temple. I will leave Puri after the deities enter the temple. We have only two days left to do business,” Abid said.

There are other roadside hawkers, who sell lamps, candles, coconuts and cold drinks outside the Gundicha and Jagannath temples during the yatra. “I used to sell deep (lamp) and have been earning nearly Rs 2,000 a day since June 29. After the Lord leaves for the temple, I will move there,” said Sudha Das, 67, a widow, who, for over the past week, has been selling lamps outside the Gundicha. Like Sudha, nearly 200 people, who are in this business, will also shift to space outside the Jagannath temple to keep their business going.

Nearly the 400 hundred roadside eateries situated on Grand Road have equally done brisk business this time. In last nine days, over 500 people ate at my shop every day. I sell rice, dal and khata (chutney). Since my rates are cheap, I get a large number of customers,” said Kailash Behera.

“It’s not just business, it’s also attachment. We had got used to having them at Shree Gundicha. We would have been happier had they stayed longer. But, we can’t stop them. In fact, we feel blessed that they emerged from their original abode once a year to meet us all,” said Behera.

There are over 400 big and small eateries and hotels, including some temporary ones, on both sides of Grand Road. “We have made adequate arrangements for pilgrims coming here for bahuda and suna vesha,” said Rohit Behera, employee of a hotel near the Gundicha.

Devotees said they were happy that there were lots of eateries along Grand Road to serve them. “Though some of them are not hygienic, we have no option. At certain places, the shop owners charge exorbitant rates which should change,” said Chandan Singh, a pilgrim from Chhattisgarh.