Op-Ed: The Lord Would Bless Us For Transcending Barriers of Religion

Year ago, a Muslim friend and colleague from Delhi had put me on the horns of a dilemma when he evinced interest in visiting the Jagannath Temple in Puri during a joint trip to the pilgrim town for coverage of a news event. I was keen to play the good host and could hardly say ‘no’ to my guest who, by the way, is married to a Hindu girl. But at the same time, I was acutely aware the dangers of such a course.  What if someone found out that he is a Muslim? All hell would break loose and I could well be assaulted by the blow-happy pandas for the blasphemy. After all, no less than Jnanpith award winning author Pratibha Ray was manhandled by the pandas for accompanying someone who looked, in the eyes of the sevaks, like a non-Hindu because of her fair complexion though she was very much Hindu. “I can take you in, but on one condition. If someone asks you your name, you will have to utter a Hindu name. So, please think of a Hindu name for yourself and even your father before going in,” I suggested. Keen to go inside, the friend readily agreed. By the Lord’s grace, the visit passed off without a hitch and both of us had darshan of the deities up close.

It was the last item on the day’s agenda and we returned to Bhubaneswar after having darshan of the Lord. My friend appeared mighty pleased for having got the opportunity to fulfill his long-cherished dream. But I kept thinking about what could have been. I was sure the Lord of the Universe would never mind a Muslim devotee having his darshan. But the self-appointed gatekeepers of the Lord’s abode would have surely pounced on me. “Why are non-Hindus denied entry into the temple of the ‘Jagatara Natha Jagannath’ (Lord of the Universe) and Patitapaban?”  I kept thinking all through the journey back to Bhubaneswar.

The question returned to haunt me when I heard the reaction of the priestly class on the Supreme Court’s suggestion to the temple authorities to ‘consider’ allowing non-Hindus into the temple on Friday.

We take great pride in the fact that our presiding deity is the Lord of the Universe and transcends all barriers of caste, creed and religion. We celebrate the devotion of Dasia Bauri, an ‘untouchable,’ to Lord Jagannath. We have included Salabega, the ‘jabana’ (Muslim) saint-poet of the 17th century, in the pantheon of great devotees of the Lord. Generations of Odias have grown up singing and listening to his jananas, which are mandatory fare in every festival of the Jagannath Temple, including the Rath Yatra (Even someone like Sona Mohapatra, the diva of modern music, cannot resist the temptation of cashing on the popularity of ‘Ahe Nila Shaila’!). But talk of allowing non-Hindus into the 12th century shrine and all hell breaks loose.

We tom-tom the fact that the Lord comes out of His abode for nine days every year during the Rath Yatra precisely to give darshan to His followers who can’t enter the temple during the rest of the year. But we would not spare Ileana Citaristi, the Italian-origin Odissi dancer who has made Odisha her home and swears by the Lord, for having the cheek to climb the chariot parked outside the Gundicha temple. We say the word ‘Hindu’ includes Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs, who are allowed to go in, but will not allow Maha Chakri Sirindhon, the crown princess of Thailand, who is a Buddhist.This is plain hypocrisy.

Asked to comment on the Supreme Court’s suggestion to the temple administration to ‘consider’ allowing non-Hindus into the temple during the hearing on a PIL on Thursday, Binayak Dasmohapatra, joint secretary of the powerful Daitapati Nijog, promptly dubbed it a ‘conspiracy’ (how often we have heard the term!) by some mischievous people. So is he accusing the highest court in the country of being party to ‘conspiracy’ or playing into the hands of the alleged ‘conspirators’? The sevaks cite the Record of Rights to justify denial of permission of non-Hindus into the shrine. But nothing – not even the Record of Rights – is cast in stone. When even something as sacrosanct as the Constitution can be amended a number of times – of course, without changing its ‘basic structure’ – to bring it in tune with the needs of the time, why can’t the same be done to the RoR? I wonder if not allowing non-Hindus is so central to the RoR.

Far from committing blasphemy, we would, in fact, be doing ourselves a great service by allowing non-Hindus into the temple. This would prove to the world that our claim that the Lord of the Universe is above divisions of caste, creed and religion is not mere rhetoric.  I also believe that far from denying us His blessings, the good Lord would actually bless us all the more for transcending the man-made barriers of religion!

(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).