October 1, 2011
Ashwin Shukla Panchami , Kaliyug Varsha 5113
For nearly 10 centuries, Puri Jagannath Temple is out of bounds for non-Hindus. Even very powerful woman like late Indira Gandhi, the former prime minister, could not enter the temple as the authorities concerned ruled that she was a Parsi married to Feroz Gandhi. Despite being the prime minister, she could not enter the temple in her
lifetime. In 1984, Indira Gandhi had to be content with seeing the temple from the nearby Raghunandan Library building.
However, some exceptions had been made a few centuries ago.Kabir, the saint and mystic poet, was initially barred entry to the temple when he came visiting in 1389 because the priests took him for a Muslim. Guru Nanak, who travelled to Puri in 1505, was denied entry because he was accompanied by his Muslim disciple, Mardina.
Both Kabir and Nanak were later escorted into the temple with full honours as Jagannath had appeared in the dreams of the then priests and kings and declared them as staunch devotees.
The plight of thousands of others is no different as the temple religiously follows the rule that it is only for Hindus. Having realised that a large number of non-Hindus coming to Puri were interested in visiting the temple, the Orissa Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC) came up with a proposal to build a replica of the 11th century shrine at Puri.
However, the grand plan has already run into trouble with a Jagannath devotee filing a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Orissa High Court challenging the OTDC’s move. A few local organisations and individuals in Puri have also expressed their anger over the proposal.
According to the proposal, the replica temple, which was to be called as Srikhetra, was to come up on a 42 acres belonging to the Jagannath Ballav Mutt, which is about 800 metres from the main Puri temple. The estimated cost was around Rs 29 crore and the government had already sanctioned Rs 11 crore.
According to sources in the state-run OTDC, the corporation would soon approach Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to sanction Rs 15 crore for the ambitious project. The chief minister is likely to oblige the corporation as he had reportedly given the nod for the proposal. The OTDC has already submitted the plan of the project to the Puri-Konark Development Authority for its mandatory approval.
“The primary reason behind the project is to give a feel of the main Puri temple to the foreigners and non-Hindus who are denied entry to the important shrine”, said an OTDC official.
In recent years, tension had prevailed in the Puri temple on several occasions after non-Hindus attempted to force their entry into the shrine. Many times non-Hindus, mostly Indians, have also been caught after entering the temple pretending themselves as Hindus. After such incidents, the three deities of the temple –Jagannath, Balabhadra and their sister Subhadra– go through a “purification” process called ‘Mahasnana”.
Apart from constructing the replica temple, the OTDC is also planning to build an “interpretation centre” where the Jagannath culture will be explained to the foreigners and non-Hindus. A two-storey mall with 140 shops will also come up near the replica temple for selling memorabilia of Jagannath.
The corporation is also planning to build miniatures of the three ‘Raths (chariots) that are used during the annual Jagannath Rath Yatra. They will be built with the dismantled logs of the three wooden Raths that were used during this year’s annual religious event.
If legal hurdles are cleared, the OTDC hopes to implement the project within a year. However, it may not be that easy because of the opposition from different quarters including. It also depends on the outcome of the PIL filed by Jayanti Das, a Cuttack-based Jagannath devotee.
Seeking High Court’s intervention, the PIL claimed that the corporation’s plan to construct the replica of the Jagannath temple is a clear intrusion into the privacy of religion of Hindus by the state government. “The OTDC has made a mockery of the Hindu
religion by planning the replica through which it proposes to illustrate and explain Jagannath culture to foreigners and non-Hindus,” the petition said.
The critics feel that the OTDC could spend the funds on the protection and preservation of the existing Jagannath temples.
Many feel that the OTDC plan to build miniatures of chariots of the temple’s three presiding deities was against the age-old tradition. The wood of the dismantled chariots usually proceed to the kitchen of Puri temple for cooking of Mahaprasad. Everyday, the Mahaprasad of the Puri temple sells like hot cakes among lakhs of devotees who throng the popular shrine not only from Odisha but also from other states and abroad.
The feeling is gaining ground among various circles that the OTDC’s grand plan may just remain on paper like many grandeur plans chalked out by government agencies. “I do not rule out the possibility of government and the OTDC scrapping the project in the coming days. How can a project like this take off if there is so much opposition to it? Those who are opposing the project are making a mountain out of a molehill”, said an OTDC official who did not want to be quoted.