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Prasanna Mishra

After Covid-related restrictions on entering temples were lifted, number of devotees visiting famous shrines in India has been increasing. Around sixty thousand pilgrims visit Tirumalai now in a day. Vaishno Devi, Badrinath and Kedarnath too have now many more pilgrims. Over the years, more and more pilgrims are visiting Temples. While Vaishno Devi had 13 lakh visitors in 1986, the shrine has about 80 lakh pilgrim count now. A million devotees visited Kedarnath in 2019. On 10th of June in 2019, over 36,000 visited the Temple. Sabarimala attracts 40 to 50 million devotees in a year. That Jagannath Dham Puri would attract more devotees for darshan is therefore only natural.

Of late, reports have come in about inconvenience devotees have experienced in gaining entry into the Srimandir. Visuals of  thousands of devotees including children and ladies standing for hours in hot sun and waiting for their turn to get inside the temple convey a distressing picture. The line of devotees have become far too long. On Phagu Purnima on the 18th of this month, the situation turned chaotic as exasperated devotees created a 'stampede' near Singhadwar (the entrance to the temple) to witness Suna Besha of Holy Trinity.

Discontentment over mismanagement is widespread indicating a severe sensitivity deficit. Response of the administration has been  inadequate and suffering of devotees seems to be open-ended. Some garden umbrellas placed at a few places, a carpet spread on the road and some bottles of water for the parched throats are baby steps and only confirm the persisting obduracy and insensitivity of people who matter.

Regulating entry of devotees - VIPs are exceptions - to the Temple through only one gate has been an avoidable copy and paste decision of the government which seems to have been oblivious to the size and amenities Bada-Deula (Big Temple) provides for devotees. The huge temple and the spacious circulation space inside were created by our forefathers with great far sight. For hundreds of years, devotees used all four gates of the Temple for entry and exit in most days. Devotees living nearby the South Gate preferred South Gate while devotees of Sahis (locality) close to Western Gate used that particular Gate. It is true, over years the number of pilgrims visiting Jagannath temple has risen and justified adequate regulations to be put in place. Regulatory arrangement, however, should have been in sync with age-old practices and existing facilities in the temple. What administrators did was avoidable. It led to an artificial crowding. Devotees could have been led to different gates and crowding for entry through one gate avoided. This would have meant standing under the hot sun for a considerably short period.

The present chaos looks all the more paradoxical because a hugely expensive and comprehensive programme has been taken up by the Government for regeneration of the ancient Puri. While the programme is a bold one and one of its kind in the state, it seems to have faltered badly so far as devotees’ comforts are concerned. Devotees are made to stand for hours under the hot sun. There is scant respect for punctuality; temple rituals are generally delayed; Mahaprasad is seldom available on time; and even if available, has become too costly for the common devotees.

What devotees are missing is sensitivity and empathy. The stampede-like situation on Holi Purnima seems to be a wakeup call. Devotees do deserve a lot more respect and attention and it is the bounden duty of the state government to ensure this without delay.

(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)

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