PURI: Throwing the district administration’s warning to the wind, a large number of people climbed on to the chariot of Lord Jagannath in the guise of priests on the occasion of Bahuda Yatra here on Friday. Donning priestly attire, the fake servitors encroached upon the Nandighos chariot during Jagannath’s procession (pahandi) from Gundicha Temple, making it difficult for pilgrims to catch a glimpse of the deities aboard their chariots. Ruckus raged on Balabhadra and Subhadra’s chariots as well.
A section of influential priests were busy minting money by inviting affluent devotees on to the chariots, hindering hundreds of pilgrims, who thronged to Puri from across the country and abroad to bid adieu to the Gods, from getting a clear darshan of the deities.
Jagannath temple security guards, Odisha police and temple administration were all rendered helpless before the priests’ hegemony. “We tried to bring down the fake priests, but the real ones threatened to stop the rituals. We had no other option than to bow down before their audacity,” said a police officer.
“The Lord was so close, yet so far for me. How could the police officials look the other way? We came from far off places to have a darshan of the deities. But the officials did precious little to make the chariots less crowded,” complained Saroj Shah, who had come all the way from Chhattisgarh.
“Our duty was to control law and order. It was primarily the lookout of the Jagannath temple administration and Jagannath Temple Police (JTP) to keep the chariots less crowded,” said Puri SP Anup Kumar Sahoo.
When the situation started slipping out of control, the temple’s chief administrator Arvind Padhee made announcement through the public address system, cautioning pilgrims against climbing the chariots. “We found lots of unwanted occupants on the chariots. We evicted them with the help of police and priests,” Padhee said.
Since the annual festivity of the deities is beamed live by several television channels, a number of priests like to flaunt their supremacy before television cameras by standing before the deities. Some priests attracted eyeballs by wearing huge quantities of gold ornaments on their neck and fingers.
According to sources, only 96 members (priests, ghantuas (who beat cymbals) and a few policemen) are supposed to be present on Jagannath’s chariot, 84 on Balabhadra’s chariot and 72 on Subhadra’s chariot. But rules went for a toss and not less than 200 people were present on each chariot.
Three teams, comprising senior district officials and police personnel, were formed to ensure that pilgrims and unwanted priests stayed away from the chariots. According to sources, while Puri district collector was in-charge of the team to look after Jagannath’s chariot, the Puri SP was taking care of Balabhadra’s chariot. Puri additional superintendent of police (ASP) was leading the team to look after Subhadra’s chariot, sources said.
Besides, each chariot was under the custody of a caretaker (badagrahi daitapati priest). Ideally, role of a badagrahi is to maintain decorum and discipline on the chariot. He should identify the priests or persons, who have no service on chariots and subsequently ask police to remove them. They had promised the temple administration and police to assist them in identifying the fake priests, who often climb the chariots under the guise of priestly attire. But the badagrahis allegedly reneged on their promise.
It is worth mentioning here that the cause of the stampede during Rath Yatra in 2008 was allegedly attributed to the huge rush on chariots. Since the chariots were overcrowded, the pilgrims became restless, leading to the stampede, in which six persons were killed. – Times of India, Puri, 29 June 2012
Filed under: god, goddess, hindu, hinduism, india, odisha | orissa, religion, rituals Tagged: | jagannath, jagannath puri, odisha | orissa, puri pandas, puri police, puri rath yatra 2012, puri temple administration, religion