Seething In Anger

Since the Nabakalebara festival in 2015, Shree Jagannath Temple in Puri is in news for negative developments. What happened on October 3 this year has crossed all limits. Hooligans ruled for six hours before the administration could realize that wrong things were happening.

This time violence erupted over the administration’s decision to force queue system of darshan on devotees. Both the district administration of Puri as well as Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) imposed their decision on people.

Violence erupted when the administration undertook reforms without making adequate preparation. And it has now been proved that reforms cannot be thrust upon devotees and servitors. What has happened on October 3 has exposed result of mindless application of reforms.

Probably keeping in mind the impact of reforms, the Supreme Court of India, though all powerful, had not directed the state government to impose restrictions. The Apex Court rather suggested certain measures to be implemented for the betterment of the temple which of late has become a place of chaos due to arrogance of certain influential servitors and priests. The Supreme Court had never asked the state government to make queue system of darshan mandatory from October 1.

Had the Supreme Court been ruthless, it would not have appointed an amicus curie. The amicus curie Gopal Subramaniam came to Puri last month and held extensive talks on the proposed reforms with all stakeholders, including the Shankaracharya of Govardhan Peeth and the Gajapati King of Puri.

However, the administration imposed the queue system of darshan without holding any discussion with all stakeholders. It followed the decision of the Temple Management Committee headed by the Gajapati Maharaja.

It is surprising how the Managing Committee could not read the public mind and allowed the administration to go ahead with the queue system. It appears that the Gajapati Maharaja has also not thought seriously about the matter and preferred to allow the administration to go ahead with the decision made by a couple of officers.

The Gajapati Maharaja, as head of the Managing Committee, should take up responsibility, instead of leaving the accountability on officers alone. The officers may be ignorant about the traditions and practice in the temple, but not the Gajapati Maharaja. He should rise to the occasion and take decision instead of remaining silent. After all, he enjoys the trust of millions of devotees.

As the news of violence flashed, amicus curie Gopal Subramaniam continued to call SJTA chief administrator PK Mohapatra and sought a report from the temple administration about the violence. Though the amicus curie and people outside the state have expressed concern over the matter, the state government appeared indifferent.

It seems that state’s political leadership appeared to have outsourced the Shree Jagannath Temple affairs to a handful of officers such as SJTA Chief, District Collector and SP and an IGP to take responsibility of everything, beginning from rituals to law and order situation. In such a situation trouble cannot be ruled out.

Be it Brahma Parivartan fiasco during Nabakalebara or loss of Ratna Bhandar keys or the reforms in the temple, a handful of officers have been given responsibility who have time and again not come up to expectations. Still, it seems the state government is not worried over the matter. This is having serious adverse impact on the state government as the devotees of Lord Jagannath are in deep anguish.

The Revenue and Disaster Management Minister and local lawmaker Maheswar Mohanty’s house was attacked. Mob set a traffic outpost on fire, vandalized Police Station.

What happened in Puri is seen as an instance of lack of foresight of the state police and state and district administration. Shree Jagannath Sena had given a bandh call on October 1 and observed bandh on October 3. During this period the administration could not gauge the public sentiment and just ignored the bandh call. No specific arrangement was made to prevent the bandh for which the hooligans took advantage and created mayhem.

The residents of Puri and some servitors also joined the mob to vent their anger against the decision of the SJTA. There are reasons behind the public anger. There are people in Puri who do not touch food and water unless they have
darshof the Lord. And the queue system has severely affected their life. This has left them angry.

There is an old lady, the wife of an advocate, who used to have darshan of the Lord every morning during Mangala Aarti for the last 30 years. The woman was asked to come on queue and she cried. A 76-year-old man from Kendrapara district used to have darshan of the Lord on every “Sankranti”. He is now worried as it will be a Herculean task for him to pass through a queue. 

Following the violence, the district administration has decided to exempt Puri town people from queue. They can enter the temple through the three exit gates after showing their identity cards as proof of residence, Puri Collector Jyoti Prakash Das said.

This decision of the administration has created a fresh controversy. It has enraged devotees from other places who felt that they were being discriminated.

The officers are not in a position to gauge the peoples’ mind and they are insisting on something, which has seriously eroded the image of the state government and it will further damage it in future.

The people in general are disheartened as they feel that the state government is not putting required efforts to resolve issue. It is time the political leadership took up the matter and find out a solution so that devotees hurt feeling is assuaged.

Political leadership of the state should keep in mind that with the poll date nearing, this emotive issue will create havoc if it is not taken care of at the earliest as devotees are seething in anger.

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