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Priests stake claim to accompany Prez during Jagannath visit

Bhubaneswar: The Sri Jagannath Temple Administration in Odisha today decided to take the help of Rashtrapati Bhavan to determine which of the two priests claiming themselves as the family priest of President Pranab Mukherjee, would accompany him to the sanctum sanctorum during his visit to the 12th century shrine.

Both priests produced documents before SJTA claiming themselves to be the family priest of the President.

"Two persons have made claims to be the family priest of the President. Since the administration cannot take a decision, we have decided to take the help of Rastrapati Bhavan to sort out the dispute," SJTA chief administrator Aravind Padhee said today.

Claiming himself as the family priest of the President, Madhusudan Pujapanda said he had the records that Mukherjee's father and grandfather had signed during their visit to the temple in 1891.

"In 1993, Pranabbabu himself had come to Puri on July 17 and signed my 'wajira' (a red register maintained by priests).

He had also donated Rs 101 to me," Pujapanda said.

Shaym Sunder Gochhikar, another senior priest also showed a document claiming the signature of the President's mother Rajalaxmi.

"I had accompanied Pranab Babu's mother when she visted the temple," he said.

Puri priests maintain warijas (registers) with names and addresses of eminent persons like kings, queens, political leaders and famous businessmen who visit the temple, hailing from different districts of West Bengal, Bihar, UP and Jharkhand, said Jogendra Dasmohapatra, a priest.

Former President Pratibha Patil was impressed by the priests preserving visitor records, including the signature of her father dating back to 1931.

This was not for the first time that the temple administration encountered such a problem. The same claim by priests had been made during Pratibha Patil's visit to Puri on December 9, 2009.

The shrine managing committee had then selected a priest after verifying his documents.

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