‘Modi for Puri Lok Sabha’ may be touted as the best strategy of BJP’s look east policy. It could be the harbinger of the golden period for BJP. These strategies may be contested. Not the attention that Puri deserves though. Puri attracts millions of Hindu pilgrims every year as part of Chardham Yatra. Puri is the ultimate destination even in death, as every devoted Odia wishes to be buried at Puri’s‘swarg dwar’, literally translated as the doorway to heaven. As the abode of Lord Jagannath, divinity reflects even on Puri’s beach which is referred to as ‘saradha bali’ or the sand of devotion. Pilgrims fold their palms in reverence even at the site of the flag of the temple of Lord Jagannath who is famed as the protector of the poor and the destitute. The heartthrob of Odias, Lord Jagannath gets the first invitation to every auspicious event in the family. Devotees get free admission, free worship and free performance of ceremonies inside the temple of Shri Jagannath.
Recently, however, the so-called freedom had been subjected to extortion and compulsion leading to violence in extreme cases. Jagannath temple management has come under the lens and there have been demands and demonstrations and in some cases, the intervention of the highest court has been sought. Immediate measures have been taken on entry to the temple which is restricted through barricades. Queuing for long hours to get entry into the temple has irked many locals who visit the temple every day. Devotees who consider Lord Jagannath as one of their family are not happy about many of these reforms although hushed voices acknowledge the diminishing menace of the rowdy.
However, one of the reforms that need the urgent attention of the authorities is perhaps the management of the Anand Bazar. Anand Bazar ‘the market of happiness’ is the place where the prasad or offerings of the Lord Jagannath are sold and both the rich and the poor are supposed to eat the prasad here together. This ancient practice although egalitarian and indeed laudable, the lack of a minimum standard of hygiene where the practice is still continuing, is alarming. The storing, serving as well as providing dining facilities of the prasad for dana and sevan inside the Anand Bazar needs urgent attention of the temple management. The ancient practice needs to be continued with modern amenities such as clean dining areas with drinking water facilities. Although the need for reforms in Anand Bazar is highlighted by many, the standards of hygiene and cleanliness remain at an abysmal level till date.
Change is never easy and conflicts are inevitable in introducing changes especially to age-old practices. However, there are some issues such as cleanliness which can never create controversies. Hence measures need to be taken to ensure cleanliness and hygiene standards at least in Anand Bazar where food is the focus. However, some issues such as the changes to the hereditary services of the Sevaks who have considered the temple as their source of livelihood for generations must be handled with prudence. The ancient temple of Lord Jagannath is the manifestation of faith and rich heritage. The need of the hour is to retain the wonder that is the temple of Jagannath, be it in name of tradition to persist or modernity to adopt changes.
While debates, political, will be prompted, and decisions, judicial, will be sought, pilgrims will throng to the pillar of Garuda. The living incarnate of Lord Jagannath, the King of Puri will perhaps, never hesitate to do his duty of sweeping the road for the chariots of the deities. The modern wave of rights and responsibility in upholding the dignity of humans and sanctity of the deity must continue.
In the true sense of social change envisaged by Y. Singh, modernization of the temple in Puri could blend the traditional practices of the ancient with modern amenities, at least while feasting on the prasad at the Anand Bazar.