Odisha is popularly known as the Land of Bhagwan Jagannatha. The Jagannatha Mandir of Puri has been one of the Char Dham Pilgrims’ four pilgrimages for Hindus.
Shree Jagannatha Temple Act, 1955 is an Act of Odisha Legislative Assembly enacted to control the management and affairs of the Jagannatha Temple at Puri. Since then, the Odisha government is all in the affairs of Shree Jagannatha Temple.
However, if we analyse the recent mismanagement of Puri Jagannatha Mandir, then we can judge how Odisha government failed completely in managing Shree Jagannatha Mandir.
Ratna Bhandar Key Missing Issues
Ratna Bhandar’s key has been missing since 2018. Five years have passed. But neither the Odisha government is interested to searching for the missing key nor in conducting an audit of the ornaments again. But why?
The reopening of Puri temple’s Ratna Bhandar has become an issue. There is doubt whether the Lord’s valuable ornaments are intact or missing.
The treasury of Lord Jagannath Temple is known as ‘Ratna Bhandar’, where the gold, jewellery, most precious gems, diamonds, and other valuables have been preserved. This treasury of the temple has been enriched by the contributions of devotees from all over the world, among whom the Hindu kings of Odisha were the most illustrious donors.
As per an order of the Orissa High Court, there was an attempt made to open the inner chamber of the Ratna Bhandar on April 4, 2018. But it could not be opened as the temple administration could not find the keys. The officials, servitors, and experts who went inside the Ratna Bhandar had to return from the outer chamber. But the administration did not make it public that the key was missing until the matter was raised in the managing committee meeting two days after the attempts were made to open the Ratna Bhandar.
Later, the Justice Raghubir Das Inquiry Commission on the Ratna Bhandar was set up and Justice Das also submitted the final report to the state government in November 2018. The Commission report has not been placed in the Assembly yet. Why the Government of Odisha fears placing the Ratna Bhandar key missing enquiry commission report is still mysterious.
With this background, there has been a demand for reopening the Ratna Bhandar for a long time. During his visit to Odisha in December last year, BJP National President JP Nadda raised the issue and targeted the BJD government. He had asked about the missing keys of the Ratna Bhandar of the Jagannath temple.
On July 6, 2022, Puri King Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb expressed his desire to see the Ratna Bhandar opened as soon as possible. He also raised demands for early repair of the Ratna Bhandar as its condition is not good.
“Security of Jagannatha mandir and Ratna Bhandar is linked with the fate of crores of Odias. This has hurt the sentiments of a large number of people of the state,” Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said.
Shankaracharya of Puri Peeth, Swami Sri Nischalananda Saraswati-ji Maharaj, and many senior servitors of Puri temple have also urged the Odisha government to reopen the Ratna Bhandar and undertake the repair work and inventory of the valuables of Lord Jagannath.
Chhattisgarh Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan has also demanded the reopening of the treasure. However, the state government did not pay any heed to the demand.
The Superintendent of the Archaeological Survey of India on August 11, 2022 has issued a letter to the Chief Administrator of Srimandir in Puri for the opening of the Ratna Bhandar. In the letter, the ASI Superintendent has asked the Srimandir administration to take the required measures to open the ‘Bhitara Ratna Bhandar’ or the inner treasure chamber of Sree Jagannath Temple as it is not in a good condition. The temple is a centrally protected monument under the ASI’s care.
Everybody is demanding to open Ratna Bhandar and make a proper audit of the ornaments, but the Odisha Government is not ready.
What is wrong in opening the Ratna Bhandar? The government’s act of avoiding the inventory creates doubt in the public mind on the existence of the Lord’s ornaments. Is it the reason that Lord Jagannath’s ornaments have been looted and the government is delaying the inventory to cover it up.
What is Nabakalebar?
It is the most sacred and important festival at Puri Jagannath Temple. Nabakalebara is a ritual associated with the Jagannath Temple in Puri, Odisha. The ritual involves replacing the wooden idols of four Hindu deities with new ones: Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra, Sudarshana. The Nabakalebar festival typically occurs every twelve to nineteen years.
There have been huge irregularities, right from Daru (neem tree) selection to Brahma Paribartan (transfer of life substance from old idols to new idols) rituals during last Nabakalebar held on 2015, which no Odia person has ever forgotten.
Brahma Paribartan Fiasco
The Brahma Parivartan (soul transfer) is the most important ritual of the Nabakalebara (change of body) of the Holy Trinity. As per the centuries-old tradition of the temple, the ‘soul’ of the deities is transferred from the old ‘daru’ (wooden) idols to the new ones by designated priests in the dead of the night. However, in 2015, Nabakalebara ritual took place in the afternoon, causing massive outrage among Jagannath devotees.
Under attack from different quarters for alleged mismanagement in Lord Jagannath’s ‘Brahma Paribartan’, the temple administration had suspended two senior priests on the charges of creating chaos inside the temple leading to delay of ritual. “Jayakrushna Dasmohapatra and Kashinath Dasmohapatra have been suspended from Daita Seva. Jaykrushna was also a functionary of ruling BJD’s Puri wing.
Ever since, millions of Jagannath loving Odias have been eagerly waiting for the report of the inquiry conducted by the then Chief Administrator of Shree Jagannatha Temple Administration (SJTA) and senior IAS officer Suresh Mohapatra to find out the ‘truth’ about the mess created during the all-important ritual. In sharp contrast, the temple administration has been making every possible effort to delay the report.
Temple’s Land In Danger
Officials said though 60,426 acres of land belonging to Lord Jagannath have been found in 24 districts of the state, but the SJTA has received the RoR of only 34,876 acres of land so far. This shows that around 26 thousand acres of land of Jagannath Temple has been lost.
Odisha Govt has given more than 500 acres of land of Jagannath Mahaprabhu to Vedanta Group which later reprimanded by the Supreme Court of India for showing undue favours to a private company by Odisha Government.
During March 2022, Odisha Assembly passed The Shri Jagannath Temple (Amendment) Bill, 2022, paving way to delegate powers to the Puri temple administration and officials for hassle-free sale of Lord Jagannath Temple land which had spark controversy. This has been done purely with mala fide intention.
Jagannath Temple Kitchen Destroyed
Over 100 chulhas (earthen ovens) inside the Puri Jagannath temple’s kitchen, also known as the ‘Rosa Ghara’, were vandalised on April 2, 2022. It was suspected that some unidentified persons allegedly ransacked the chulhas. Meanwhile, the incident has raised questions on the security measures at the sacred shrine. Sources said the pithagada, Kothabhoga, Satapuri and Thaliada chulhas were ransacked.
Demolition Of Mutts
The mutts are at the core of Jagannath Sanskriti (culture). If the temple is a banyan tree, the mutts are its descending roots. The area in front of the holy 12th-century shrine, which is normally teeming with thousands of devotees at any given time of the year, now wears a deserted look.
The imposing nine-century-old Emaar Mutt right in front of the temple, which provided a vantage platform for the high and mighty for viewing the Rath Yatra in the past, has been completely razed to the ground. Also, gone are two more ancient mutts – the Languli Mutt and the Bada Akhada Mutt – while 18 others, including the Manguli Mutt once visited by Guru Nanak, have been demolished by Odisha Government.
The devotees in Puri Shree Jagannath Temple are forced to stand in queues for hours in order to have a disciplined darshan. SJTA is allegedly failing to manage huge crowds of devotees in front of the temple and the elderly fainting while waiting in long queues.
The present situation is simply the outcome of the administration’s decision to close three of the four gates of the temple. Though devotees have been demanding that all the temple gates be opened in view of the rush during Kartik month, the administration has remained silent. People are facing a lot of misery and are forced to stand in a long queue from Market Square to the Temple. In the queue, the old and the children are standing for hours and waiting for darshan. They come from different parts of the country and abroad to see the Lord. Government administration have been failed to imagine the hardships and pains they suffer while standing in queues for hours, sometimes even for five or six hours, in the scorching sun and rain
Three gates of the temple have remained shut since March 2020 following the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic.
Govt Advices “Senior Citizens Not To Come”
Devotees from various parts of Odisha have reacted sharply and expressed their anguish over the ‘absurd appeal’ recently made by the administrator of the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA), Ranjan Kumar Das, to the sick and elderly devotees.
Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) chief administrator Ranjan Kumar Das’s appeal to elderly devotees to refrain from entering the temple with a crowd has added fuel to the ongoing debate.
Indian Constitution guarantees people to practice their religious beliefs. Restricting people from visiting Jagannath Dham is against the Constitution and illegal. The government has gone against the law by seeking to restrict elderly and sick people from visiting the temple. It has also put a barrier between the devotees and the deities.
Deities Go Hungry
Lord Jagannath is said to have a big appetite. Hence, he is always offered a sumptuous bhog and he is known as Bhoga Khaiya – one who eats a lot of bhoga. Every day, Lord Jagannatha honours 56 different items of bhoga at his temple in Puri. But due to mismanagement and lack of seriousness, deities also go hungry multiple times hurting crores of devotees across the world. Here are some incidents.
On 16th April, 2018, the deities go hungry due to ritual irregularities.
On 16th September, 2023, the deities of Puri Jagannath temple, who are normally offered the day’s first bhog (breakfast) at 8.30am, remained hungry till 5.30pm on following some mismanagement.
During Rath Yatra 2023, the Lords are made to go without food on their respective chariots due to delay in Gopal Ballav ritual following Abakash Niti.
On 17th April 2018, Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra have remained without food for the last 30 hours as the Mahaprasad could not be offered to them.
Banakalagi Niti Controversy
Banakalagi ritual was not conducted in the temple after Rath Yatra this year on time. It was found that the ritual was stopped due to a dispute between servitors and SJTA over the selection of the day on which it should be performed.
Controversial Chief Temple Administration
The government was asked by Supreme Court of India to appoint a full-time chief administrator, not one on additional charge, for the temple during 2019. The intention of that order was to look into the management of temple on daily basis. Odisha Govt took 4 years to appoint a full-time administrator when the petitioner threatened contempt of court. However, the government appointed an administrator who was involved in multi-crore scam of non-mining minerals. Odisha Vigilance Department has mentioned the name of Ranjan Das, current chief administrator of Shree Jagannath Temple, in their charge sheet filed before Lokayukta, Odisha.