Niladri Bije fiasco: Role of SJTA, Law minister under scanner

Puri/Bhubaneswar: As the unruly behaviour of the servitors during the Niladri Bije of the deities in Puri on Sunday night has caused widespread outrage among devotees in Odisha and across the country, the role of the Shri Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) and the Law minister in the incident has now come into serious question.

The incident took place in the presence of the SJTA chief administrator Suresh Chandra Mahapatra and the Law minister Arun Kumar Sahu, who kept watched the entire fracas from behind a glass cabin in the temple Information Centre building near Simhadwara without bothering to intervene at any stage.

Though the melee continued for more than an hour during which the recalcitrant servitors had a war of words with the district administration, particularly collector Arvind Agarwal, and later jostled the media persons present near the chariots, neither Mahapatra and nor Sahu bothered to come out of the glass cabin and make efforts to restore normalcy.

In fact, the Law minister himself, whose close nexus with the servitors is public knowledge now, has been found violating the law on more than one occasion – first during the Banajaga Yatra last year when he was found sleeping among the servitors and again when he touched the deities inside the temple during their pahandi bije along with some ministers on the day of Rath Yatra on July 6.

The Opposition has predictably held the state government responsible for the Niladri Bije fiasco.

Expressing concern over the incident, leader of the Opposition Narasingh Mishra said a section of servitors had created such unsavoury incidents in the past too. “Had the state government taken stringent action against them, this incident would not have happened again. I squarely blame the state government for this incident,” he told OTV today.

Reacting to the incident, BJP leader Biswabhusan Harichandan said watching the entire incident on television left no doubt in mind that the Shri Jagannth Temple Administration (SJTA) is virtually non-existent. “The helplessness of the temple administration clearly shows that it has no control over these rowdy and audacious servitors,” he pointed out.

Instead of taking on the Opposition, BJD spokesperson Pratap Deb said since Lord Jagannath has a special place in the heart of every Odia, any issue or dispute relating to the Lord will evoke widespread reaction. “I hope the state government and the temple administration will come up with a blueprint to ensure that such incident will never happen again and rituals of the Lord will be conducted with proper coordination,” he observed.

Meanwhile, in an act of brazen defiance, a senior servitor has lambasted the temple administration’s decision to arrest and suspend some servitors for their unruly behaviour and warned the state government of dire consequences.

“It is just the beginning. What you had seen two days ago the pahandi was delayed by an hour. In the coming days, it will be delayed by 6-7 hours and if necessary, this ritual would collapse,” Jagannath Swain Mohapatra, chief Badagrahi of Lord Jagannath, told OTV.

However, coming down heavily on Jagannath Swain Mohapatra, research scholar of Jagannath Culture, Prafulla Rath said the Jagannath Badagrahi does not have any control over his words. “He is used to say whatever he wants to say without realising the ground reality. He should remember that gone are those days when he could browbeat the people and the temple administration. From now on, the devotees will pay a deaf ear to whatever he says. Rather they will vehemently react and protest,” he pointed out.