By Saswat Panigrahi
The Supreme Court has asked the Sri Jagannath Temple Management Committee to “consider” allowing non-Hindus to enter the gigantic 12th century holy shrine. Hearing a petition filed by one Mrinalini Padhi of Cuttack, which sought “reforms” in Shri Jagannath Temple at Puri, a Bench of Justices Adarsh Goel and S Abdul Nazeer said, “Hinduism does not eliminate any other belief. It reflects eternal faith and wisdom and inspiration of centuries.”
The Supreme Court’s direction has sparked off a raging debate across the country. Puri Govardhan Peeth Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati, who is also the chief of Mukti Mandap Sabha – the apex body of pandits in Shri Jagannath Temple – is against the entry of non-Hindus to the Temple. The Shankaracharya said allowing entry to all to Sri Mandir by “violating” the age old practice of Sanatam Dharma is “NOT acceptable to us”. Gajapati King Dibyasingha Dev – who is considered the first servitor of Lord Jagannath – has made it clear that when there is a question relating the issues of Sri Mandir, the decision of the Shankaracharya is considered to be “final” and “even the Court will accept it.” Badrinath Patnaik, Odisha unit working president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) said the Gajapati King and Puri Shankaracharya must be consulted before any step is taken on the issue of Jagannath Temple.
Non-entry to Jagannath Temple – A brief history
A signboard hanging from the Lion’s Gate, the main entrance of Puri Jagannath Temple, clearly reads, “Only orthodox Hindus are allowed inside the Temple.” At different periods of history various eminent personalities were not allowed to enter the Jagannath Temple.
- In 1389, Kabir, one of the pioneers of Bhakti movement, was initially barred from the Temple because he was wearing a taqiyah (a skull cap). Kabir was later allowed inside the temple after Lord Jagannath is said to have appeared in the dreams of servitors and declared him as his strong devotee.
- In 1508, Guru Nanak – who was accompanied by his Muslim disciple Mardina – had been meted with the same treatment. According to the legend, after being denied entry to the Temple, Guru Nanak went to the sea beach and prayed Lord Jagannath. In the same night, Sri Jagannath is said to have come in the dream of the Gajapati king of Puri that he had personally taken Prasad to a Sadhu on the sea beach. The next morning when the priests found that the golden plates and cups of Lord Jagannath went missing they informed the king. The Gajapati king offered obeisance to Guru Nanak and escorted him to the Temple.
- In 1900, the then Viceroy of British India Lord Curzon – who used to take immense interest in the geography, history and archeology of India – was denied entry to the Jagannath Temple. However, Lord Mountbatten – the last Governor General of India – was accorded a red carpet reception during his visit to the Temple in 1945. Mountbatten was accompanied by Dr BR Ambedkar, who was an executive council member to the then the Governor-General. Interestingly, the father of Indian Constitution and the crusader of depressed castes was denied entry to the Temple.
- Noble laureate Rabindranath Tagore – a Pirali Brahmin by birth – was denied entry to the Jagannath Temple. Pirali Brahmin was one of the categories banned in Section XI of Regulation IV enacted by British.
- In 1934, when Mahatma Gandhi, accompanied by Vinoba Bhave, had tried to enter the Jagannath Temple along with their Dalit, Muslim and Christian followers. They were barred from the temple. While Kasturba went inside the Temple to offer puja, Gandhiji launched Harijan Padyatra from the Temple’s Singhadwar. “Why should there be any difference between men in the Temple of God?” he had asked.
- In 1984, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was not allowed to enter the Jagannath Temple because she was married to Firoze Gandhi, a Parsi. Indira had to content with seeing the Temple from the nearby Raghunath Library building.
- In 1977, Bhakti Vedanta Swami Pravupada – the founder of International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) – had tried to enter the Temple along with his disciples, but stopped.
- In 2005, crown princess of Thailand Mahachakri Siridharan was denied entry into the Temple because she was a follower of Buddhism.
- In 2006, Elizabeth Jigler, a Swiss citizen who had donated $400,000 to the Jagannath Temple (the largest single donation ever given in the history of the temple), was not allowed to enter the Temple because she was born in a Christian family.
Why a section Hindus were not allowed
It was not only non-Hindus, some prominent Hindus in the past were not allowed entry to the Jaganntah Temple. There was a foreign hand behind that sinister design. The British had enacted the dubious Regulation IV in 1809. The Section XI of Regulation IV had barred the entry of 16 different Hindu castes and sub-castes from entering the Temple. They are: Lolee (or Kasbee), Kalal (or Sunri), Machua, Namasudra (or Chandal), Gazur, Bagdi, Jogi (or Narbaf), Kahar Bauri (or Dulia), Rajbansi, Pirali, Chamar, Dom, Pan, Tior, Bhuimali and Hari.
From some Hindus to all Hindus, sans ISKCON
Dr Harekrushna Mahatab, the first Chief Minister of Odisha, had strongly argued for the entry of all Hindus – irrespective of castes – to the Jagannath Temple. Former Chief Minister of Odisha Biswanath Das, who was one of the authors of Indian Constitution, had declined to enter the Temple to press for the entry rights for Dalits. Following these, there has been a marked change in the practised rule in Puri Jagannath Temple. Perhaps, the most distinguished visit to the Jagannath Temple after Independence was that of the then Union Minister Babu Jagjivan Ram, a Dalit. All Hindus irrespective of castes are now allowed to enter the Temple. But ISKCON devotees are still barred from the temple on the ground of their foreign origin. In 1996, the then Chief Minister of Odisha JB Patnaik – who was also an expert on Jagannath Sanskriti – had proposed that the ISKCON devotees should be allowed to enter the Temple. But no progress has been made in this regard so far.
How Puri Temple doors closed for non-Hindus
Historically, Muslims were allowed to enter the Jagannath temple until 1660. But the doors of the Temple were officially closed for Muslims on June 1, 1660. It is understood that the Jagannath Temple Management Committee had taken the much needed decision in the wake of several attacks by Muslim plunderers on the Temple. Records suggest that Puri Jagannath Temple was invaded as many as 17 times between 14th and 18th century.
A peep into the invasions on Puri Temple
- The first Islamic invasion on Jagannth Temple was done by Illiyas Shah, the then Sultan of Bengal, in 1328.
- The second invasion on the Temple took place in 1360 by Feroz Shah Tughluq, the Muslim ruler of Delhi.
- The third invasion was done by Ismail Ghazi, the commander of Sultan of Bengal Allauddin Hussain Shah, in 1509.
- The fourth invasion was done by Kalapahada, the dreaded Islamic general of the then Mughal Governor of Bengal Sultan Sulaiman Karrani, in 1568.
- The fifth invasion was jointly done by the Islamist plunderer duo Suleman and Osman in 1592.
- The sixth invasion was done by Mirza Khurum, the then commander of Nawab of Bengal Islam Khan, in 1601.
- The seventh invasion was done by Hasim Khan, the then Subedar of Odisha, in 1607.
- The eighth invasion was done in 1610 by Kesodasmaru, a Hindu Rajput Jagirdar, who was serving under Hasim Khan.
- The ninth invasion was done in 1611 by Kalyan Malla, who was serving as the Subedar of Odisha under Jahangir.
- The ninth and 10th invasion was done in 1611 by Kalyan Malla, who was serving as the Subedar of Odisha under Jahangir.
- The 11th invasion took place in 1617 by Mukarram Khan, the Governor in charge of Odisha during Jahangir rule.
- The 12th invasion took place in 1621 by Mirza Ahmad Beg, another Governor in charge of Odisha during the Mogul rule.
- The 13th invasion took place in 1645 by Amir Mutaquad Khan, who was the Governor of Odisha under Mogul rule.
- The 14th invasion took place in 1647 by Amir Fateh Khan in 1647.
- The 15th invasion took place in 1692 by Moghul emperor Aurangzeb.
- The 16th and 17th invasion took place in 1731 by Muhammad Taqi Khan, a Deputy Subedar of Odisha during Mogul rule.
By Saswat Panigrahi