Reforms in Shri Jagannath Temple

Prasanna Mishra

My God, since my childhood, has always been resplendent and vibrant; a harmonious blending of love and anger; a poised existence; determining creation and destruction; an embodiment of patience, waiting for a person having a clear conscience and sense of surrender, to take refuse in Him. I have never reconciled to the abode of God being a place of squalor; inertia and sloth. This perception has determined my attitude towards Temples. Bada Deula is no exception. My childhood ecstasy in climbing the Baisi Pahacha has waned over a period of time. I prefer now to look at the Neela Chakra from a distance and pray, whenever I get a chance to visit Puri. The reverential Mukti Mandap looks to me sleepy; the chaos inside the precincts of the Temple seems to be born out of discrimination; exploitation and inertia. I withdrew, at least emotionally, from Bada Deula when I saw a back-door, even at the abode of God—the Temple—which admitted only Big People to have closer physical view of the Lords going to the chariots in Pahandi. The craze of some people to have eye-ball contact with the Lords on Ratna Singhasan was a sickening sight. The not-so-mild persuasion, bordering coercion, by some priests making the devotees part with money and, sometimes, gold, made me wonder if such goings on would not ever end. Should the show go on as it is? I ask myself many times. I am not sure if after two decades, the Temple would be able to perform most of the rites of the Lords unless we introduce reforms in tune with the majesty of the Temple. 

Of late, however, I get encouraging signal that the worm at last is taking turn. The long stupor seems to be somewhat disturbed with a few lucid intervals and during those brief periods of lucidity, a few noteworthy actions are being taken. Darshan at the sanctum sanctorum has been now restricted. This decision has evoked reactions. Many seem to be against the restriction. I welcome the new arrangement. I had never liked some people going close to the Deities as to me it was a discriminatory practice. In the present environment of increasing insecurity, it is all the more appropriate that we prevent devotees going close to the Ratna Singhasan. We need to prevent people from climbing the chariots and touching the Deities. The recent decision not to have ladders to the chariots is a welcome one. This decision needs to be enforced. We must ensure that at no cost are the Deities made to stay in the chariots at night. Irrespective of when the chariots reach the Gundicha Mandir or the Bada Deula. Once this decision is taken; there will be marked speeding up of various rituals during Rath Yatra. We can ill afford the laxity and inclination to keep the Deities in the chariots at night. Security of the Deities is of paramount importance. Devotees silently suffer the delay in various rituals in the Temple. Last Chandan Yatra had the unprecedented happening when the Deities were taken to the Chandan Pokhari past midnight. Mangal Arati is more often delayed than performed on time. I recollect our first visit to the Rameswar Temple at Rameswaram years ago. On arrival at the temple town, we paid a visit to the Temple in the evening and ascertained the time of the morning Avishek. We were told that the next day's first Avishek would be at 35 minutes past 4 in the morning. We reached just before the scheduled time and had an unforgettable experience of the Avishek that is done on the Mercury Lingam with milk offered by a cow which is brought into the Temple for the purpose. It is time the Temple authorities published the schedule of various rituals for the next day in the afternoon everyday for information of the devotees. The schedule needs to be displayed on a TV screen at different places of the city. Similarly, the ongoing rites of the Temple should always be on display. Deities change their forms during Naba Kalevara, not every year. There is no rationale for the chariots to be constructed every year. When we are unable to keep our forests free from poachers who steal timber and when our performance in growing new trees falls short of what is necessary, we should devise means for prolonging the lives of the chariots. A beginning needs to be made to change the chariots only in the fifth year. We save huge quantities of timber and money by this change. 

Servitors are an important component of the Temple. They have served the Deities for hundreds of years. Our society has been respectful to them. We remember with gratitude their valour that had frustrated the heinous attempts of the invaders to defile the Deities. Many of them lead an humble life and quite a few are in financial difficulties. It is time we had a dispassionate look at the prevailing hereditary system. Our polity has looked critically at offices held on the principle of heredity. Many ancient institutions, based on such basis have been done away with. Kings have been made to lose kingdoms; Privy Purse has been abolished; Zamindary has been abolished; even small jagirs enjoyed by persons for rendering certain services have been abolished. The legitimate interest of the affected persons has always been protected, keeping in view the principles of equity and social justice. We should look at the recorded privileges of the servitors; their duties; examine the feasibility of rationalisation of various services; and think of doing away of the hereditary principle, if possible, through voluntary renunciation of the privilege in lieu of a liberal compensation. While doing so, we should be sensitive to the legitimate interest of the affected persons and help them to start a new life, economically more rewarding. Induction of fresh blood, based on qualification, is the need of the hour. 

We have had enough time doing no more than cosmetic treatment. The need of the hour is to establish the supremacy of the Presiding Deity and ensure the inherent right of the devotees to communicate with their God with dignity. Bada Deula is too big to endure appeasement; too holy to be defiled by hooliganism. Majesty of the Lord demands that the abode of God turns into an ocean of harmony; tranquility, equality and order. 



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