Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Puri, May 20:
With the Banajaga Yatra yet to be complete and several of the rituals of the Nabakelabara process remaining, the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) chief administrator Suresh Mohapatra has stirred a hornet’s nest by announcing on Monday a ban on devotees from touching the deities on the snana mandap (bathing altar) on Debasnana Purnima (June 2).
Debasnana Purnima is a vital ritual in the run-up to Rath Yatra every year. But it is even more important this year since it is also the last public view of the existing idols of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Lord Sudarshan before new idols are installed in their place in this Nabakalebara year.
Daitapati (body protectors of the Lords) servitors have openly challenged the SJTA’s decision and have made it clear that they will defy the ban as the decision was taken in their absence and without consulting them.
“The administration has banned touching of the deities by devotees on the snana mandap without having consulted Daitapatis. The decision has been taken in our absence. We will not comply with it. We have differences. But when it comes to interference with the Record of Rights of Daitapatis, we will jointly confront it,” said a Daitapati servitor in his reactions on the SJTA’s decision of Monday.
Office bearers of the Daitapati Nijog alleged that the government was deliberately attempting to create a disputes and trying to reap benefits out of the situation.
During Rath Yatra last year, the SJTA had announced that devotees will not be allowed to touch the deities atop the chariots.
The restriction was imposed on the basis of the High Court order to implement the recommendations of Jagatguru Shankaracharya of Govardhanpeeth Swami Nischalananda Saraswati, the SJTA had clarified.
The SJTA had sought the opinion of the Shankaracharya on whether devotees can touch the deities atop chariots.
Based on his study of the scriptures, the Shankaracharya had opined against devotees touching deities atop chariots. The Shankaracharya had further advised to compensate Daitapatis for their losses incurred due to the restriction.
The state government executed one part of the advice given by the seer by restricting devotees from touching deities atop chariots, but is yet to execute the second part of the advice compensating Daitapatis for their losses.
On the night preceding the day of Naba Joubana Darshan of the Lords, the SJTA had promised to suitably compensate the Daitapatis for their loss of earnings due to the restrictions.
Despite Daitapatis raising the issue several times, the state government had offered a measly amount of Rs 40 lakhs towards compensation which was refused by the Daitapatis. Hundreds of Daitapatis suffered losses on account of it. The Daitapatis once again drew the attention of the government towards the issue. The government while telling them that it would reconsider their demand had asked them to apply for the same again. However, the government is yet to take a decision on it.
“The government is trying to create fresh dispute by imposing a ban on the touching of the deities on snana mandap by devotees while the dispute over the issue of dues of Rath Yatra last year remain to be resolved. Neither the Shankaracharya nor the High Court has given an opinion on the darshan of the deities on snana mandap by the devotees on Debasnana Purnima. So what if the decision has been taken at the meeting of the Chhattisa Nijog? The dispute over the 2014 Rath Yatra dues is yet to be resolved. We will not comply with the decision on the darshan of the deities at the snana mandap. Let the government and the temple administration discuss with us; then we will take a decision on the issue,” said Premananda Dasmohapatra, Secretary Daitapati Nijog.
The Nijog demanded that the temple administration revoke the decision.
“The temple body took the decision without consulting us. Many of our members are outside Puri as part of Banajaga Yatra,” said Narasingha Patimohapatra, another servitor.
“While the government is yet to pay us our arrears for the 2014 Rath Yatra, it has sparked off a fresh dispute by announcing a ban on touching of deities by the devotees on snana mandap. This decision has been taken arbitrarily by the government. We won’t comply with this order. We have not been consulted,” said Binayak Dasmohapatra, a senior Daitapati and Biswabasu of the Banajaga Yatra team.
After strong protests and opposition by the Daitapatis, SJTA chief administrator Suresh Mohapatra has made it clear that the decision was not a personal decision of anyone. “The High Court has imposed restrictions on the touching of deities by the devotees. Non-compliance of it by SJTA will amount to contempt of court,” Mohapatra said.
The matter had reached the courts last year after the Shankaracharya’s opinion on the climbing of devotees atop the chariots and the High Court had issued two directives in this connection, he informed.
While the first directive of the High Court said that devotees will not be allowed to climb atop chariots, the second directive said devotees cannot touch deities, he said adding that many may not aware of the second directive since it had come after the snana yatra last year.
“Since the High Court’s directive is still in force, we will comply with it. Devotees cannot touch deities be it in the temple, atop chariots or on the snana mandap, nowhere. We will hold discussions with the Daitapati Nijog soon and seek its cooperation for smooth conduct of the ritual,” said Mohapatra.