Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra

In an unfortunate incident, Lord Jagannath and His sibling deities Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra at Puri Srimandir remained hungry for more than nine hours on Friday. The unusual development happened following the delay in rituals as several servitors staged a protest against a Singhari servitor's forceful entry into the shrine to conduct rituals despite being banned for his alleged inter-caste marriage.

Though the rituals resumed following a long discussion between the authorities of the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) and servitors of various Nijogs, concerns have been raised over the likelihood of such disruption of rituals in the 12th-century shrine on similar issues in the future. It’s mainly due to the rigid marriage customs and the dwindling male-female ratio among the servitor fraternity.

As per the age-old tradition, the servitors can’t get married beyond the boundaries of Atharanala. They will get the opportunity to offer service to Lord Jagannath only if they get married within their own caste.

As Singhari servitor, Sankamitra Singhari had an inter-caste marriage; he was banned from offering service to the Holy Trinity. However, he didn’t obey the disciplinary action taken against him and as a result, rituals were delayed for over nine hours at Srimandir due to the protest by other servitors.

According to experts associated with Srimandir, similar kinds of issues may create more problems in rituals in the future. As per the report by Nabakrushna Choudhury from the Centre for Development Studies, the number of girls in the servitors’ families was 863 in comparison to 1000 boys in 2005. While in 2013, the number of girls was 873, it was 924 in 2021. As the number of girls is less than boys, some of the servitors are forced to have inter-caste marriages. Moreover, many others are having inter-caste marriages due to differences in social status and educational qualifications. Due to these reasons, some of the servitors are getting banned from offering service. Some senior servitors have expressed their concerns that the problem will be further compounded in the future.

“It’s an ancient tradition. Servitors had taken a vow that they would not get married beyond the boundary of Atharanala. Though we have tried our best to upkeep the tradition, there are some deviations in recent times,” rued Nilamani Guru, a senior servitor.

“Due to the dwindling ratio of girls in comparison to boys in the servitors’ families, some servitors are forced to have inter-caste marriage,” said Dr Sarat Mohanty, senior Chunara servitor.

Meanwhile, members of the temple administration committee have harped upon a change in the mindset of the servitors.

In a bid to solve the issue in the long run, Pratihari Nijog is giving assistance of Rs 1,00,000 to the servitor’s family where a girl child is born. Similarly, Garabadu Nijog is providing Rs 30,000.

Several senior servitors of Srimandir have urged other Nijogs to take similar steps and solve the issue through mutual discussion and understanding.

“Alternative arrangements for all the servitors have been mentioned in the Srimandir Record of Rights. As per the changing time and situation, all the servitors of various Nijogs should discuss the issue among themselves to come up with a suitable solution,” said senior Daitapati servitor, Binayak Das Mohapatra.

“All the Nijogs should conduct a meeting and hold discussions among themselves to have a proper solution,” said Temple Administration Committee member, Madhaba Chandra Mohapatra.