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Odisha Rath Yatra : Discontent simmers among sevayats; govt in a bind

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Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Puri, June 23:

With barely a week left for the world famous Rath Yatra in Odisha’s holy city of Puri and despite a clear order from the Odisha HIgh Court on the issue of chariot climbing, there are reasons to suspect that all’s not well, as far as the preparations for the grand festival is concerned.

The last co-ordination committee meeting for the Puri Rath Yatra in Odisha, which ended in a discordant note as the irate sevayats (servitors) of Sri Jagannath temple cornered chief minister Naveen Patnaik, some of his cabinet colleagues and the top government officials with a volley of questions, is a clear indication of the disquiet that many senior government officials and ruling party leaders are trying to brush under the carpet.

Angry sevayats arguing with ministers at the meeting
Angry sevayats arguing with ministers at the meeting

A section of the visibly agitated priests raised questions as to who will identity the sevayats authorities to climb the chariots and whether the Sankaracharya of Puri is entitled to do so as per the Record of Rights put the government in a tight spot.

“Is the Shankaracharya a Niti (Ritual) Guru or Dharma (Religious) Guru? Why he is interfering in the temple rituals? Why is the temple administrationevading the agenda of rituals at the review meeting?” a sevayat asked.

While one sevayat was heard saying that even the Shankaracharya does not figure  in the record of rights as one who can climb the chariot, another stood up to seek a clarification on who will identify and list out the sevayats eligible to climb the chariots.

Let the Temple managing committee or anyone clarify when one can touch the deities without committing a ‘sin’ shouted another angry priest in what was clearly a sarcastic dig at the Shankaracharya’s view that devotees touching the deities was a ‘great sin’.

As none of the ministers and officials including the chief minister was willing to answer, the angry sevayats walked out of the meeting.

However, the normalcy returned as the sevayats came back  after the Law minister announced that the state government will have a meeting in the context of the verdict of the Odisha High Court on June 24 on the rituals of the temple, Record of Rights (RoR) and rights of selected persons to climb the chariot.

Sahu also assured the sevayats that the committee will form a sub committee to discuss the issues raised by them at the meeting.

However, this meeting is not likely to solve the controversy over who among the sevayats would be allowed to mount the chariot or even whether the Shankaracharya should be allowed to mount the chariots or not, informed sources said.

There are unconfirmed reports that some sevayats are even planning to create problems when the Jagadguru Shankaracharya pays a customary visit to  the chariots on the Rath Yatra day.

“Disturbing signal and bad omen indeed”, said a local scholar, who blamed the state government and the Law minister in particular, for messing up things.

” We can only pray to Lord Jagannath that the Rath Yatra passes off smoothly without a hitch and hope that sevayats do not let their bitterness with the Shankaracharya and the Puri Gajapati affect the proceedings on the all-important day of chariot-pulling,” he said.