Debate on temple entry bar

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By Staff Reporter
  • Published 19.07.13

What’s common to Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Indira Gandhi and Kabir? They were all refused entry to Puri’s Jagannath temple.

“While our Jagannath temple in Kidderpore admits visitors of all religions and nationalities, the one in Puri admits only Hindus. This issue has been a long-standing debate and so we decided to hold a seminar on this topic this year,” said Parsuram Bishoyi, vice-president of Shree Jagannath Seva Samity, that organised the week-long Odisha Festival at Swabhumi.

The scholars who spoke at the meet put forth several facts and opinions. Indira Gandhi was refused entry as she had married a non-Hindu, Tagore since he followed Brahmo Samaj, Kabir because he was dressed like a Muslim when he came to the temple and Mahatma Gandhi because he tried to enter with Harijans.

Krishna Bhattacharya’s speech, which was read by her husband, revealed instances of a Swiss national who had made massive donations to the temple but was still refused entry because of her nationality and of the Caucasian husband of an Oriya lady who was beaten up when he tried to climb Lord Jagannath’s chariot. “Yet the Vatican is open to everyone.”

The convenor of the seminar and a resident of Purbachal Cluster III, Krishna Chandra Bhuyan, kept providing snippets of information, such as how women in burkhas pull the rath in Bangladesh and how Hindus and Muslims together celebrate Rathyatra in Baruipur. “It is not the scriptures that restrict entry to temples but people.”

An Oriya scholar, Rabindra Prasad Panda, said the exclusion lay in pan-Indian culture and not simply this temple. “The term equality is alien to India. When we have not been able to abolish the caste system, it is too much to expect equality in allowing entry into a temple. Indians talk of unity in diversity but in reality, do not even socialise with people of other religions.”

Maqbul Islam, a professor at St. Paul’s Cathedral Mission College, too asked the audience not to single out the Jagannath temple when such discriminations are widespread. “I have been refused entry at mosques in Kashmir and Chennai because they do not consider Muslims of West Bengal to be proper Muslims,” he said. But the teacher has entered the Jagannath temple and even spoken to the priests about how they identify non-Hindus at their gate. “The priests said they stop anyone they feel is not a devotee. The temple is not a tourist spot but a place of worship. Besides, after the blasts in Bodh Gaya, entry should be as strict as it is in airports.”

Another Oriya scholar Gyaneshwar Mishra felt that visitors do not have the authority to make the priests alter their rules of admission. “However, we should not confuse the temple management’s decision with that of the Lord, who is accessible to anyone who seeks Him.”

A.K. Chand, former income tax commissioner and chief guest at the programme, added that Lord Jagannath is unique. “Even if a devotee cannot visit him, He comes to visit them every year on His chariot.”