Ashutosh Mishra

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Odisha government has drawn up grand plans to turn Puri into a world-class heritage city. The government has already launched a demolition drive around the 12th century Jagannath temple, the town’s most famous landmark and the focal point of Hindu spirituality, to execute the plan which would focus as much on the comfort of pilgrims and tourists visiting Puri as on the protection of the great shrine visited by lakhs of people every year.

Puri is an old town with a maze of lanes and by-lanes which get choked easily when big events like Rath Yatra take place. On such occasions even the Grand Road, the widest thoroughfare in the town, gets congested. Traffic congestion and related problems plague the town almost daily considering the regular inflow of tourists and pilgrims.

Security of the Jagannath shrine, one of the most revered Hindu temples of the world, is equally important considering its vulnerability to terrorist attacks. The issues is discussed routinely during the rath yatra when there is massive deployment of police and paramilitary forces in the town. But the shrine needs round the clock security and steps to decongest the area around have become extremely important.

Perceived from that point of view state government’s grand plans for Puri should  be welcomed by one and all. But the demolition drive has already sparked off protests by people likely to be displaced. Even the sevayats ( servitors) of the temple have expressed concern. In certain quarters the move has been criticized for the fear that it might interfere with the basic character and culture of the city.

Such fears exist despite chief minister, Naveen Patnaik’s emotional appeal to the people of Puri to make some sacrifices for the sake of safety of the 12th century shrine. “ I know some families are likely to be affected. But their sacrifice is crucial to ensure the temple’s security. We should keep it protected for our future generation. You should feel like doing it as a seva to lord Jagannath. Your sacrifice will always be remembered by the Odia community,” the chief minister told the residents of Puri calling upon them to cooperate with the administration.

Patnaik’s appeal will hopeful strike a chord with the residents of the city who consider lord Jagannath to be part of their family and should be ready to make any sacrifice for the sake of him. While  they will be doing this for their own sake and for the sake of their children the fears about government’s drive changing the basic culture of the city appear completely unfounded.

There were similar misgivings when Prime Minister, Narendra Modi launched a drive to decongest Varanasi, one of the holiest cities of the Hindus, following his election to the Lok Sabha from the constituency. But now Varanasi looks cleaner and is far more comfortable for visitors including the pilgrims who pay their respects at the iconic Kashi Vishvanath temple. Attempts are also being made to cleanse the Ganga.  The people are happy as the drive to clean and beautify the city has in no way affected their ‘Banarasipan’, the essence of the culture of Banaras.

The residents of Puri should similarly get rid of their fears. What is happening will not only make the city look  more beautiful but also improve the quality of their lives.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are 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.)