Protest on proposal to allow foreigners into Jagannath temple

Bhubaneswar: The controversy over the ruling BJD MP Pyari Mohan Mohapatra`s statement favouring entry of foreigners into Sri Jagannath Temple in Puri, intensified on Tuesday with priests staging a demonstration before the 12th century shrine.

The priests under the banner of `Chatisa Nijog` (federation of 36 groups of priests) burnt effigy of Mohapatra demanding withdrawal of the statement that allegedly hurt religious sentiments of scores of Hindus. The priests agitation came a day after Jagannath Sena strongly opposed Mohapatra`s statement.

"Mohapatra must withdraw his statement and the state government should take action against him for the bad utterance," said Chatisa Nijog secretary Ramachandra Dasmohapatra.

Mohapatra, considered as the main adviser to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, had on Sunday told a meeting on tourism that there was nothing wrong in allowing foreigners to enter the temple in order to boost the state`s tourism potential.

"If we allow foreigners to enter the temple, tourist flow to the state will be doubled," the BJD MP had stated.

Meanwhile, Shankarachaya of Puri, Swami Nischalananda Saraswati, who according to the Temple Record of Rights (RoR) is the authority to take a decision on allowing foreigners and non-Hindus into the temple, said, "Let me hear arguments of all sections and study the spiritual angles into it. A decision can be taken after a detailed debate."

Explaining his stand, Mohapatra said yesterday, "I had said that allow entry of people belonging to all religions into the temple with a focus on tourism. I was not speaking at any religious convention, rather at a business meeting on the promotion of tourism".

The 12th century shrine does not allow non-Hindus into the temple. A sign board at the temple`s Lion Gate clearly states: "Only Hindus are allowed".

Mohapatra`s statement had also sparked a row in political circles with suspended BJD MLA Debashis Nayak demanding apology from the party MP.

"Please do not mix religion with business. A politician has no right to hurt religious sentiments of the people," Nayak told reporters.

"How can Mohapatra make such a statement which hurts sentiments of crores of Hindus? He should withdraw it immediately," said Jagannath Sena`s chief Priyadarshi Patnaik.

Assam Governor and former Orissa Chief Minister J B Patnaik, on July 5, had advocated entry of ISKCON devotees into the temple. "The ISKCON devotees should not be prevented temple entry for being whites. They are Hindus and read the sacred `Bhagavat Gita` everyday and have set up a number of Jagannath Temples across the globe."

Gajapati Maharaj of Puri King Dibyasingha Deb said, "The religious leaders, saints, spiritual persons should decide whether non-Hindus should be allowed into the temple."