Sudhansu is the son of a friend and a colleague who had worked as Works Secretary to Government of Odisha. Sudhansu, a senior expert in cement technology, had a request from his daughter. She hadn’t been to the Puri temple for quite some time and had requested for a family visit to Puri for a darshan of Lord Jagannath. Accordingly, they left Bhubaneswar for Puri on 8th of November. Near Baata Mangala, Sudhansu was directed to take a route on right that led him to the Beach. He drove towards Swarga Dwar and tried to take a turn to the left to go near the Temple. He was advised to go straight. Near the junction close to the Collectorate, he was prevented from going left. He proceeded straight and near the Subas Bose Chowk he again tried to turn left but the police advised him to go straight. He tried to turn left again near Sunar Gauranga. They won’t let him. He drove on and soon found him on Marine Drive, on way to Konark. He returned to Bhubaneswar after purchasing Jhilli sweets at Nimapara. Sole purpose of the trip — to visit the Jagannath Temple and have a Darshan—got frustrated. Because of lack of parking space, he was not allowed to proceed to the Bada Danda via the Hospital. Sudhansu was bitter when he narrated his frustration to me. He was prepared to leave his car near the Circuit House and they would have taken an auto-rickshaw up to the Temple. No such facility was permitted. They could have informed him, Sudhansu said, at the toll-gate about non availability of parking space on Bada Danda so that he could have returned back home without paying the toll=tax and proceeding to Puri. That day, he wasn’t alone who had this frustrating experience. At least a dozen other cars around this time met the same fate.
Residents of Puri undergo such difficulties as well. City Residents having homes in many ancient Sahis cannot have a cab or an auto-rickshaw-ride up to their house. Someone living away and coming home with family on holidays cannot reach his house in a Sahi by taxi. Access to the city has been made chaotic mostly because of Sarkari mismanagement.
From the parking area on the Bada Danda, facilities of electric cars do exist for devotees to go up to the entry point for the Temple.Children, ladies, old and infirm, however, face difficulties of long queue in sun and rain. A man-made unnatural arrangement has been put in force to gain entry to the Temple which for centuries admitted devotees through four gates. Only recently were the city residents permitted to gain entry through the western gate though every devotee irrespective of where he came from, should have flexibility of entry through gates convenient to him.
The Temple, of late, remains closed on many days. For example, it was decided on October 14, 2021 that no darshan would be allowed at Puri Sri Mandir on Dussehra, Diwali, Bada Ekadasi and Kartika Purnima. One gets a feeling that devotees, by design, are being kept out of the temple on most of the religiously important occasions and to that extent the temple has become a Sarkari temple that ensures privilege of darshan only to seyayats and VIPs. While the temple in Puri remained closed during Dussehra this year, the Vaishno Devi Temple authority made elaborate arrangement and nearly 25,000 devotees visited Mata Vishno Devi shrine on the first day of Navratri in early October this year.
It is worth recalling the approach the British Government exhibited towards the pilgrims. Act of 1840 marked a new and important departure in the policy of the Government. It repealed the pilgrim tax as it was considered as a state sanction to idolatry. The Act prohibited temple authorities to impose tax of any kind upon pilgrims for admission to the temple and performing ceremonies there. Right of free admission and free worship became a recognised privilege of the general body of pilgrim. Government gave up all connections with the temple and the Raja had now the full authority in regard to management of the temple and its property.
What was the position of the devotees in ancient times? A look at the Purushottama Kshetra Mahatyam that is a part of Skanda Mahapurana of Sage Vyasa is relevant. Sloka 49 of the 46th chapter dealing with The Aksaya Tritiya Festival states “In the sacred place of Sri Purushottama, having bathed in the water of the Sea which is the chief of holy bathing places, and seeing with physical eye itself Brahman in Wooden Form dwelling in the Abode which is at the root of the Banyan Tree, one is freed from bodily bondage.” This reiterates the right of the pilgrim to have darshan even in the most auspicious occasion. Temple door was not shut to pilgrims on such occasions. In Chapter 48 Sloka 18, the King is being advised by Indradyumna to serve the Lord excellently as He is the Bestower of the benefits of prosperity and Liberation and to get those festivals richly performed along with city dwellers and the common people.
Against such tradition what the temple city of Puri is now witnessing appears to be a well-designed reform package where the devotees have been marginalised and local residents discriminated against in matters of vehicular access to different parts of the city and the temple providing a pampered treatment to only sevayats and VIPs. Clock has moved backwards and increasing government control of the temple seems to have converted the ancient temple to a sarkari department.
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org)
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