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Prasanna Mishra

As night grows darker, a busy day for the Lords draws to a close and the Jagannath Temple activities get oriented towards the day’s last ritual for the Lords– Bada Sinhar Besha. A few devotees– maybe fifty, hang on in the vast premises of the Temple. Some bid time on the Achinta Mandap of the Temple of Goddess Laxmi, while some sing Bhajan in the glory of the Lords there, others listen. At this hour inside the main Temple, the concerned servitor hurries, carrying a basket of fragrant flowers for bedecking the Lords. Sandal-paste is applied to the Holy Trinity and the Lords don special Silk and get bedecked with garlands and flowers. It is time now for offering the sibling deities their last meal of the day before they go to bed. A small number of devotees get a glimpse of the Lords in Bada Sinhar Besha. A servitor now sings in the glory of the Lords to make the Lords sleep. The devotees still hang on to have a portion of the Bhog. Besides different types of Pithas, Bhog includes Mitha Pakhala and Kadali Bada, the taste of which is beyond description.

The magic of the Srimandir Temple Kitchen (Rosa Ghara) is unique; for centuries, servitors in charge of preparing food for the Lords have expressed their love, affection and dedication to the Living God through their culinary skill and cooked varieties of delicacies – Chhapan Bhog – for the health and happiness of the Lords. 

For centuries, the Temple Kitchen has been special, both in size and in its way of cooking. It has two hundred forty wood-fired chulhas. Chulhas are of three kinds. While 150 of them are used for cooking Rice (Anna), the rest ninety are Pitha chulhas and Ahia– square sized, (for cooking Dal, Vegetables etc). Chulhas are highly valuable properties. Years ago, most chulhas belonged to Mathas but gradually these were taken on lease or on transfer to Supakars. Ownership used to change from time to time and in the past an owner, in need of money, would incur a loan of a few lakhs of rupees by mortgaging a chula. Instances of ownership changing hands through verbal agreement are there. Chula continues to be bone of contention and gives rise to rivalry, jealousy and disputes among Supakar fraternity. Cooking is made for ten thousand to a hundred thousand people and therefore it is big business.

Report on Sunday (April 3, 2022) about damage to 43 chulhas the previous night took the temple town and the entire Odia fraternity by surprise. Perhaps for the first time so many chulhas (17% of the total) were reportedly vandalised. Revelations that the kitchen door had not been locked the previous night was shocking.

There were reports that temple policemen were not near the entry to the kitchen. That only six out of the total 135 CCTV Cameras were in operational state revealed lackadaisical security arrangement. A person was found well after midnight inside the temple premises and was taken out of the temple by four policemen of the Jagannath Temple Police (JTP). 

The claim of the police that they worked on leads and nabbed the culprit in his village in Khordha district does not sound convincing. However, the man picked up seemed to have admitted to have damaged the chulhas single-handedly without even any tool like a crowbar. He reportedly reacted on the spur of the moment after entering the kitchen as he felt disturbed over commercialisation of Mahaprasad. This version, however, has few buyers. It is widely believed that vandalism on such a wide scale could not have been possible by a lone perpetrator. It is more probable that the act was premeditated and perpetrated by a few people to settle scores.

The incident raises a few important issues involving security of the temple and management of Mahaprasad. These issues are not new; these have been persisting and kept under carpet despite increasing presence of Government inside the Temple. This is worrisome. Government seems more engaged in an expensive face-lift of the surroundings of the Temple. A casual attitude to pilgrims’ difficulties has not helped. 

While the act of vandalism in the temple kitchen does warrant an in-depth investigation instead of a swift closure of the case following the arrest of one man and his statement, Government must fix responsibility on persons responsible for severe security lapses detected after the incident. It’s inconceivable that in a highly sensitive place like the Jagannath Temple almost all the CCTV cameras would be dysfunctional. It is also important that management of Mahaprasad is efficiently organised to again make Mahaprasad an integral part of the Divine experience a devotee always aspired for.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author can be reached at lonewalker.1942@gmail.com)

More From The Author: The Curious Case In Odisha: When Bureaucrats Chose To Compromise Ethos Of Bureaucracy

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