Puri’s Jagannath Temple shut over tussle between priest and police
Hundreds of devotees at the 12th-century Jagannath Temple in Odisha’s Puri had to go back disappointed on Friday after waiting for hours as priests refused to open the gates following a scuffle between them and police.
The stand-off also comes days before the temple administrations has to implement some of the reform measures suggested by the Supreme Court from January 1.
Officials have alleged that temple priest Bhawani Shankar Mohapatra was trying to take three devotees inside the temple on Thursday evening when police at the main gate stopped them as they suspected they were not Hindus. Only Hindus can enter the temple.
In 1984, former prime minister Indira Gandhi was not allowed by priests to enter the temple as she had married a Parsi. In 2006, a Swiss citizen Elizabeth Jigler, who had donated Rs 1.78 crore to the temple donation box, was denied entry as she was a Christian.
Mohapatra insisted they were Bengalis and this led to a scuffle over the issue.
Mohapatra said policemen at the temple argued unnecessarily and tried to manhandle him. “The tourists were all from Bengal, but the cops did not allow. The temple administration is encroaching upon our rights. This would not be tolerated,” he said.
Following the incident, both Mohapatra and police lodged two separate first information reports at the Singhadwara police station.
None of the temple rituals took place till noon and devotees waiting outside the temple since the morning shouted at officials after they were denied entry into the temple as the temple priests demanded a resolution to their grievance against police.
Disha Mazumdar, a devotee from West Bengal’s Kolkata, said she has been waiting since morning to have darshan and all that the officials are doing is pleading helplessness.
“We made last minute reservations to come to Puri and now we are being told the temple doors would not open. No one is telling us clearly when the issue would be resolved,” she said.
Puri’s district collector Jyoti Prakash Das said they have tried to talk it out with the priests.
“I have gone twice and requested the priests to resume the temple rituals, but they are unmoved. This is very unfortunate to keep the devotees waiting and the Lord hungry,” said Das.
Officials are apprehensive that the implementation of the ticketing system for the devotees from January 1 as part of the reforms mooted by Supreme Court will be affected after Friday’s standoff.
The top court had mooted 12 proposals in July saying the servitors will have no claim on offerings made by devotees and all collections must go the temple donation box, following a PIL by Cuttack-based lawyer Mrinalini Padhi.
This also included a barricaded queue system for devotees from entrance itself, end to donation to priests and transparency in temple management.
The top court’s order led to a cold war between the temple priests and the state government with the servitors unwilling to cede ground over their traditional rights. Hundreds of people, including Jagannath temple priests, went on a rampage protesting the queue system for devotees on October 3.