Puri temple priests allege defamation over President visit row
Priests of the Jagannath temple in Puri have accused government authorities and the temple administration of defaming them over the alleged misbehaviour meted out to President Ram Nath Kovind and his wife during their visit to the temple in March.
Damodara Mahasuara, president of Suara Mahasuara Nijog, the temple cooks’ body, lodged a complaint against Puri collector Arvind Agarwal and former chief administrator of Sri Jagannath Temple Administration, Pradeep Jena.
“They are trying to offend us before the whole nation and fully prepared to take action against us,” he said, two days after the minutes of the temple administrative committee meeting were leaked, revealing details of the March 18 incident.
The minutes said President Kovind and his wife Savita Kovind were reportedly nudged and pushed by three servitors (priests of the temple).
“Some servitors had brushed against the President and the President’s wife which was frowned upon by the President’s office. Then the President stepped forward to put his head at the foot of the Ratnasinghasana a ‘khuntia mekap’ (one of the hundreds of priests) did not make way,” it said.
Sources said the priests were persistent despite previous orders that President would not sign any register.
“One of them had reportedly acted as family priest of the President’s father and was fervently requesting the President to sign. The President was clearly not amused by this,” said an official who was present during Kovind’s visit.
Though the president’s office did not file a complaint, chief administrator of Jagannath Temple, Pradipta Mohapatra said there was a “breach in protocol”.
“No one is supposed to go near the President as per the protocol. We have got the matter inquired by Puri collector and SP and the servitors have been identified,” Mohapatra said.
Temple management sources said the incident was triggered as the Puri district collector and the SP wanted to ‘fix’ temple servitors over their misbehaviour with officials during 2016 Rath Yatra.
At least six such priests had misbehaved with the district collector and abused him in foul language during the car festival after the officer stopped the family members of the priests from climbing the chariot as per rules.
The controversy over Kovind’s visit has come at a time when the Supreme Court has constituted a committee to prevent exploitation of devotees and proper management of the temple.
Responding to a petition by a Cuttack-based lawyer early this month, the apex court asked the state government to take adequate measures to prevent harassment of devotees.
Last month, a devotee from Maharashtra was allegedly assaulted by the servitors and his gold pendant snatched inside the Jagannath temple as he did not pay the amount demanded by the priests. The servitors abused and beat his wife as well for paying them a lower amount of money.
Chief secretary Aditya Prasad Padhi tried to play down the issue, saying there is no need to have any further discussion on this as the chief administrator has already clarified on the issue. The state government is wary of non-cooperation by the priests in conduct of the Rath Yatra in a fortnight.