Press meet by Sankara Acharya Puri – Who are eligible to touch Lord on chariot

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After adorned on the chariots ( Ratha ), some selected and authorised persons as per Skanda Puran and other epics of Sananatan religion can worship and touch the deities on chariots ( Sri Jagannath, Subhadra and Balavadra ). Among them honorable Srimad Jagadguru Sankarachrya, who is the supreme religion authority of Sri Mandir, the King of Puri who is the the organiser of Car Festival and other selected Servitors ( Sevayat ) to Deities as per religious epics are authorised to wordhip & touch the deities on Chariots. All other devotees, visitors are eligible to see the deities to see the deities on Grand Road .

Press Meet Report

Photo: Ranjan Ganguly

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To touch or not to touch the Lord, that’s the question vexing Puri.

The Jagannath temple administration has decided not to allow devotees to clamber on to chariots during the renowned Rath Yatra, seeking to end the practice after a complaint of assault that was eventually withdrawn.

Only sevayats, tribal priests associated with the rituals, will be allowed on the chariots during the yatra held usually in July every year, officials said.

A section of the sevayats has vowed to oppose the regulation “tooth and nail”. Some sevayats are known to take between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000 from visitors from abroad to be allowed to board the chariots and touch the deities.

But at least one academic has raised the larger question of whether rituals around tribal deities could be confined to that of Hinduism.

A scramble plays itself out at night when the nine-day event begins with the journey of Lord Jagannath and siblings from their 12th century abode to Shree Gundicha, the temple located 2.5km away and dedicated to their aunt. As the Rath Yatra is the only occasion when the deities emerge from the sanctum sanctorum, some devotees compete with each other to touch them atop the chariots.

“We have decided in principle to implement the suggestion of Puri Shankaracharya Swami Nishalananda Saraswati not to let devotees climb up the chariots to touch Lord Jagannath and his siblings during the annual festival. Even VIPs will not have this privilege,” chief temple administrator Arvind Padhee said.

Describing the decision as sensitive, Padhee added: “We have decided so in the larger interest of all concerned. Since a law-and-order problem might crop up while implementing the decision, a sub-committee has been formed to suggest modalities of how to put it into practice. The state government’s opinion will also be sought in this regard.”

The temple administration had sought the opinion of the Shankaracharya of Puri after Italian Odissi dancer Ileana Citaristi, a Padma Shri recipient, accused a servitor of manhandling her during the last yatra in July atop Nandighosh, the mount of lord Jagannath. Servitors belong to the overarching group of priests, including Brahmins.

A police inquiry was initiated but Citaristi withdrew her complaint after a section of the servitors met her.

In a 56-page report, the Shankaracharya said no one except the sevayats should be allowed to climb the chariots. “It is not right according to the scriptures,” the Shankaracharya said today.

But senior sevayat Jagannath Swain Mohapatra said: “The temple management’s decision will be opposed tooth and nail. As the Lord comes out of the temple once in a year, it will be improper for the management to put a ban on people touching the deities.” Mohapatra also spoke of moving court.

The administration has taken note of the opposition. “The sevayats who suffer financially because of the decision will be adequately compensated. We will also initiate a number of steps for the welfare of the servitors. These include the proposal to set up a hospital for them at Puri,” Padhee said.

Dinanath Pathy, an art historian and painter, said he was disappointed. “Jagannath is a tribal deity. Why is he being confined to Hinduism? Besides, with a little common sense, the administration could have sorted it out. If they issue tickets for darshan on the chariots, the rush will automatically come down.”

Aruna Mohanty, renowned Odissi dancer, said touching the Lord was a divine experience. “It indeed is a special experience but then maybe authorities are not entirely wrong in taking this decision as there have been controversies in the past,” she said.

Puri Shankaracharya Jagannath temple administration Puri Shankaracharya Swami Nishalananda Saraswati

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