The culture and traditions of Shri Jagannath Temple located in Puri, one of the most sacred places of pilgrimage of the world, are very old. In this connection , a lot of things pertaining to the mysteries, rituals , fairs and festivals of Shri Jagannath have been enshrined in our ancient scriptures and epics i.e Vedas , Vedanta, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharat, various Puranas and Upa- Puranas, Samhitas, Tantric Texts and Agamas. The modern literature in various Indian languages are also resplendent with the origin, history , culture and traditions of Lord Jagannath. These traditions are based upon universal appeals and democratic approaches since this unique culture of Sri Jagannath promotes global fraternity, universal tranquillity,international peace and everlasting happiness. It is our collective responsibility to preserve and promote this unique tradition with an objective of spreading the philosophy of universal brotherhood among all the people of the world irrespective of their caste, creed, colour,
religion and region. It is pertinent to mention that one of the traditions of Sri Jagannath is to allow the entry of exclusively orthodox Hindus in Srimandir and allow all others to have a glimpse (free darshan) of “Chaturdhamurthis” on the occasion of “Devasnana Purnima” and“Car festival or Ratha Yatra” from outside the temple.
Meanwhile, the apex court of this country , in its order dated 6th July 2018 , has directed the Sri Mandir Temple Administration to consider the entry of persons of other faith (non- Hindus) in Jagannath Temple and that too subject to proper dress code, giving of an appropriate declaration or compliance of other directions permitting every visitor irrespective of his faith , to offer respect and to make offerings to this deity. Hence the underlying spirit of the orders of the Hon’ble Supreme court is to analyse the matter from various angles and to take a decision by the Sri Jagannath Temple Administration . It may be mentioned that even if no time-limit is prescribed , it is understood that the process should be over within a reasonable time frame since the Hon’ble Court has already fixed the next date of hearing during the current month.
It would not be out of place to have an analysis of both the sides of the coin while considering this most sensational matter . No doubt , the point is debatable and both the supporters and opponents of the issue have been presenting their own views since the inception of the debate. The supporter argue that Sri Jagannath , as name connotes , is the Lord of the entire Jagat or Universe and He is a synthesis of all religions, faiths , philosophical doctrines and cultural traditions of the world. It is also described in the Sastras that having been seated on the “Ratnasimhasan” (throne of the Jewels) along with His elder brother “ Balabhadra and sister “Subhadra”, the Lord of Universe , Sri Jagannath, promotes the culture of Universal fraternity and global integrity.
During SnanaYatra and Rath Yatra, Sri Jagannath, the presiding deity of Odisha, comes out of His Sanctum Sactorum and permits all the devotees irrespective of their caste, creed, colour, sex, religion and region to have His darshan and previously those devotees were also getting an opportunity to touch the Chariot and even “Mula Vigrahas”. If this is possible, the supporters argue, why all these actual devotees should not be permitted to go inside the temple to offer their “Archana” to Lord and make offerings in the Hundi ? so that they won’t be deprived of getting the direct blessings of the deities and as such no discrimination is made on the basis of caste, creed, colour, religion and region. However, the opponents present a completely opposite view arguing that the Temple stands for Hindu Dharma and that is the reason why only Hindus should be allowed to enter the Temple and this tradition is very old. Under no circumstances, the tradition of a religious institution should be discontinued.
In the tradition of Sri Jagannath, two persons i.e. 1. His Holiness Jagadguru Sankaracharya of Puri Govardhan Pith and 2) Pujya Sri Sri Gajapati Divyasingha Deb Maharaja (the first servitor of Sri Jagannath) are very important from the points of view of interpreting the purports of various traditional rituals and determining the code of conduct of rituals inside the Temple. Both of them are in favour of preserving the tradition or Parampara of the temple regarding the non entry of the persons belonging to other faiths and religions. The various sections, belonging to almost all the “Niyogas” are up in arms in respect of the orders of the Hon’ble Apex Court since they are the supporters of the tradition. However it is obvious that in a democratic set up , the devotees in general of the entire world, will certainly welcome the directives of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. At this juncture, the Temple Administration has to take a decision keeping the emotion, direction, tradition and scriptural injunctions in view, so that the same should be free from repercussions and ramifications. In fact, the Sri Jagannath Temple Management Committee headed by Sri Sri Gajapati Divyasingha Deb Maharaj, comprising of the representatives of the servitor community, concerned State Govt and scholarly community, is the apex Committee in respect of the management and administration of Sri Jagannath Temple and everybody is now anxiously waiting for its decision regarding the entry/non-entry of the non-Hindus in the Temple. While taking a decision, apart from taking other components in to consideration as mentioned above, the security of the 12th century monumental shrine should also be taken in to account.
A custom or tradition of any religious or social institution is always required to be judged, based upon its antiquity, situational compulsions if any, scientific, viability and sometimes social demands. That is the reason why several reforms have been introduced in various religious and social institutions of our country and reforms have been honoured and accepted by the society. At one point of time, the “Mulavigrahas” (Original deities) were being touched, embraced and hugged by the devotees during Rath Yatra and Snana Yatra and even on the Ratnasimhasan. But after a marathon debate , organised by H.H Sri Jagadguru Sankaracharya , Sri Sri Nischalananda Saraswati, attended by scholars of Vaishnavism and learned priests of various Temples, a decision was taken not to allow any devotee (excepting the persons authorised to do so ) to touch or embrace the Mulavigraha and the same was accepted and implemented by the temple administration two years ago despite the much opposition from the servitors as a result of which a long tradition of Sri Jagannath culture got discontinued . It is just an example to show that the decisions are taken in respect of the traditions of Lord Jagannath based upon the scriptural injunctions, recommendations of the scholars and directions of our religious Guru, Jagadaguru Sankaracharya of Puri Pith,
the permanent President of“Muktimandapam” a platform meant for giving verdicts on various religious and social issues based upon exclusively on Sastras.
It is a fact that Lord Jagannath is worshiped by the devotees and scholars belonging to various faiths and communities of Sanatan religion like Vaishnava, Saiva, Ganapatya, Sakta, Saura, Bauddha, Jaina, Dvaita, Advaita, Visisthadvaita and Dvaitadvaita etc. As various rivers coming from various directions ultimately meet the sea and lose their identity, similarly different faiths come to this place of composite culture and mingle themselves with the broad philosophy of Lord Jagannath and sometimes lose their own identity too. Hence it is argued that Puri is the meeting ground of all types of religions and regions and a glaring example of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” meaning thereby “One Globe and One Lord i.e. Lord of Universe , Sri Jagannath and One language ,i.e. the language of devotion coming from the heart of an individual.
Anyway, these are all the arguments and counter-arguments of the case in hand. Decision can only be taken by competent authority i.e. Sri Jagannath Temple Managing Committee, as directed by the the Hon’ble Apex Court. But before taking such an important decision , which will have global ramifications, it is submitted that let the Temple administration organise and sponsor an international colloquium in collaboration with the Department of law of the concerned State Government by inviting His Holiness Sri Jagadaguru Sankaracharya of Puri Pith, learned representatives of Muktimandapam, esteemed representatives of various servitors’ communities, representatives of the concerned State Govt and central Government, representatives of the legal fraternities, Historians, Philosophers, Priests, Archaeologists, Spiritual leaders of various faiths and some oversees delegates. Of course, Pujya Gajapati Maharaja, being the Chairman of the Temple Managing Committee may preside over the international colloquium. The major thrust areas of the colloquium will be – i) the antiquity and socio-religious justification of the tradition regarding non-entry of non-Hindus in the Temple; ii) the security of 12th century old monumental shrine , iii) the purpose of the Sri Jagannath Culture and its role in promoting global fraternity, iv) justification of prevention/ permission of the entry of the person of other faiths in Jagannath Temple, v) analysis of the present direction of the Apex Court vi) other related judgements of the Hon’ble Supreme Court regarding the upholding / changing of age old traditions/ customs, vii) repercussion of the decisions either in favour or against the matter and viii) any other related subject matter. The findings and observations of the international colloquium should be the base materials for taking a balanced decision by the Temple administration as per the direction of the Hon’ble Supreme Court and the same can be submitted before the court for their kind reference and further action, particular sensational issue of global significance.
the writer is Vice-Chancellor Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS Deemed to be University) Bhubaneswar, Odisha
By Harekrushna Satapathy