The issue of hereditary rights of servitors of Puri Jagannath temple and entry of non-Hindus which figured in the Supreme Court recently has stirred the proverbial hornet’s nest here with sharp reactions from various quarters pointing out at the existing law entitling servitors, security of the temple and the future of the world famous annual Rath Yatra (chariot festival).
Veteran political leader Bijay Mahapatra wondered how none of the parties in the apex court had drawn its attention to the existing Jagannath Temple Act, 1952 which provides for hereditary rights of servitors. The Advocate General of Odisha was present, he noted.
It may be noted that the Puri district judge who had been asked to furnish a report to the apex court had suggested reforms like dispensing with the hereditary rights of servitors, uniform for servitors, etc.
Bijay Mahapatra told media persons that hereditary rights of servitors are enshrined in the record of rights and the Jagannath Temple Act 1952 Section 15 clause 1.
“Nobody can wish this away. It can only be amended by the assembly or scrapped by the apex court,” he said.
“Any tinkering without proper study is bound to create a huge unwarranted crisis,” he added while underscoring the fact that no other place of worship can be compared with the Puri Jagannath Temple where over 120 ‘sevas’ are conducted by the servitors. The innumerable “nitis’ (rituals) on a daily basis is unmatched, he noted.
He went on to underline the point that the Puri Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingh Deo has a well-defined role to play as far as temple matters are concerned and he should take the lead. The managing committee of the temple should meet and discuss the issue immediately, stated Mahapatra.
Replying to a question, Mahapatra said he does not rule out a conspiracy by a few “outsiders” to somehow create a controversy over the Puri Jagannath Temple.
He implicitly referred to “people eyeing on political gains” by evoking such issues.
Asked on entry of non-Hindus, he said that the temple managing committee is to discuss and decide.
“The matter is open in the apex court and the state government must take it seriously with due study and care,” he said.
Conscious of the emotive issue and sentiments involved, Odisha Law Minister Pratap Jena was guarded in his reactions.
“The government has not received a copy of the interim order of the apex court. We will examine it before taking a call and if need be suitable amendment can be made to the existing Jagannath Temple Act, 1952,” he said.
Revenue Minister Maheswar Mohanty, a stalwart who has represented Puri assembly constituency for four terms, had a word of caution saying tradition and rituals practiced over centuries cannot be taken in a light manner.
“If non-Hindus are permitted to enter, the Rath Yatra will stop because the Lord comes out from his abode to give darshan to millions of devotees who are not able to enter the temple,” he said.
Significantly, the Puri Gajapati Maharaja Dibya Singh Deo, who has a special place in the temple as the first sevak of the Lord told a local television channel on Saturday that on all such issues the Puri Sankaracharya’s word is regarded as final.
He referred to the security aspect in times when globally terrorism is a major problem when asked about opening the doors of the temple to everyone. The government has to provide security, he added.
Repercussions have to be examined thoroughly before undertaking any reform, he observed.
“The issues have been flagged and a wider discussion is needed,” he said while informing that the managing committee of the temple will meet after the Rath Yatra to discuss all matters.