Italy-born Odissi and Chau dancer and Padma Shri awardee Ileana Citaristi was allegedly beaten up by two servitors atop the chariot of Lord Jagannath in Puri, about 65 km east of Bhubaneswar, on Sunday.
The noted dancer, who has made Odisha her home since 1979, said the two temple attendants slapped and shoved her down the chariot in the morning after she refused to pay them Rs 1,000 they were demanding.
“I am shocked. This is a first time experience for me,” Bhubaneswar-based Citaristi, 55, said. “We are emotionally attached to Lord Jagannath and do not expect such behaviour from the servitors who serve Him.”
Citaristi said the servitors also abused her foreign origin, taking no note that she was paying obeisance to Lord Jagannath.
The deity has been stationed in the chariot in front of the Jagannath Temple after Bahuda Yatra (return journey) since July 18 for public view. It is a part of a ritual that began after the Rath Yatra (chariot festival) on July 10.
Citaristi has lodged a complaint with the temple authorities.
Jagannath Temple chief administrator Arabinda Padhee condemned the incident. “I have personally talked to Citaristi to convey my regrets and ordered an inquiry. No one has any right to misbehave with a woman,” the Indian Administrative Service officer said.
Citaristi came to Odisha 34 years ago from Bergamo in Italy to train in Odissi under Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. Later, she learnt Mayurbhanj Chau dance.
She is known for innovative blending of both dance forms in her choreography. She won the 43rd National Film Awards for Best Choreography for the Bengali movie Yugant in 1995.
In 2006, she was awarded the Padma Shri — India’s fourth highest civilian award — for her contribution to Odissi.
Citaristi has inspired Odissi enthusiasts across the world to come to the state to learn the dance form.