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Puri Rath Yatra: To Touch or not to touch Lord Jagannath! -II
Through this ambiguous order the state government had succumbed to the pressure tactics of the daitapatis and exhibited the vulnerability of the government to the organized groups of temple servitors, who time again threaten disruption of the temple rituals if their demands are not met. Even, Daitapati Nijoga, the Daitapatis' organization of the alleged that the Seer had started a campaign against the Daitapatis.

In a mood of defiance the Daitapati Nijoga even had gone to the extent of questioning the wisdom of the Shankaracharya and his authority. They have said that Shankaracharya and the other experts have miss-interpreted the religious texts. On 17th of this month Daitapati Nijaoga has submitted a four page letter to the Chief Minister of Odisha Naveen Pattanaik on the issue.

Chief of Daitapati Nijoga Swain Mohaptra had even gone to the extent of giving a threat to Sankaracharya- "the Shakaracharya should withdraw his decision at the earliest, failing which, he would not get respect from the devotees and the servitors in future." It is not difficult even for a lay man to read between the lines. Mohapatra also has cautioned against any effort to change the decision. He has said, "The nabakalebara (new face of the lords) festival is due next year and if the Shankaracharya stands by his word, there will be serious disruptions and he will be held responsible for that."

This statement somewhat explains why and how the government had been coerced to take a decision to favour the Daitapatis. And if this is true then it is a very serious issue to be taken up by the Jagannath devotees of not only Odisha but the world over. Can the temple affairs be left to such vested interest groups?

This issue got politicized. The statement by the law minster Arun Sahu has added salt to the injury done to the Shankaracharya and the Jagannath devotees. He said on 15th June, "The state government should implement the decision of Jagatguru Shankaracharya. But, before implementing this decision there is need for more debate on this."

Tourism and culture minister Ashok Panda not only supported the decision by the law minister, but also had added argument to it by saying, "Religious sentiment around lord Jagannath and the culture of Odisha are interwoven. So we should focus on how Lakhs of devotees coming to have a 'darshan' (to see and worship) of lord Jagannath will be able to do so in a disciplined manner." This clearly indicated the ruling party position that mounting the chariot and touching the deities need not be done away with, but only to be disciplined.

While the ruling party is in the mood of carrying forward the ambiguous decision of the law minister, the Bharatiya janata Party and the Congress opposed it. Congress termed the decision of the government as a mockery on Shankaracharya's decision.

Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee Secretary Bibekananda Panigrahi has said, "If the government is scared of implementing the decision of Jagadguru and Gajapati, then it should discuss the matter on the floor of the house. Or it should call an all party meeting. BJP claimed that disrespecting the decision of Shankaracharya is disrespect to Hindu religion and disrespecting the Gajapati is disrespect to all the Odias. The government yielded to the demand from the opposition and the Speaker of Odisha Assembly called an all party meeting to arrive at a solution to the problem. The Law minister had informed the media that the meeting discussed about peaceful conduct of the Rath Yatra. For this purpose a high level committee has been formed. Ex-Speaker and Ex-Tourism Minister and sitting MLA of Puri, Maheswar Mohanty will Chair this committee. Puri MP Pinaki Mishra, Temple Administrator Aurobindo Padhi, Water Resources Secretary who also had been the Temple Administrator previously Suresh Mohapatra, and Special Police DG Sanjeev Marik are the other members of the committee. They will consult with different stakeholders and come to a decision so that the Rath Yatra is conducted peacefully."

The law minister also said that they respect Shankaracharya of Gobardhanpitha. How ever the committee did not have to work as due to the pending case its functioning was kept stalled. And now after the verdict the Committees most probably has to work on a new Terms of Reference as to how the decision has to be implemented.

The Jagannath devotees have heaved a sigh of relief. But how smoothly the decisions will be carried forward and how soon it will be implemented is the question that is still making the rounds.

While the government and different political parties along with the bureaucrats are struggling hard to find a solution acceptable to all regarding the climbing on the chariot, other problems like terrorist threats and finding of vibrio cholera virus in Puri before the Rath Yatra where lakhs of devotees will congregate warrants express attention of the state. But the controversy has relegated them to back stage.

With the present developments the Jagannath devotees are a confused lot. On one hand they have all the respect for Shankaracharya and his opinion. But at the same time they also have the lure of touching their beloved Kalia during Rath Yatra, that could be a once in a life time opportunity. But now the knowledgeable say that it is a sin. Is it a sin? Have they been sinning all these years? And if the Shankaracharya and other learned people are saying that is against the religion they why the government is going against it?

The government has decided that there will be only 2000 tickets for climbing the chariot. What about others? Are the Daitapatis and the ruling party ministers only talking about these 2000 privileged persons in the name of the emotional chord that the Jagannath devotees share with their Kalia to hug him? Is the sanctity of rituals of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra taken for a ride for the benefits of a few?

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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