Navakalevar Fiasco And Lord Jagannath
The world famous car festival of Lord Jaganath is being celebrated at Puri along with dirty politics. This year, the car festival carries a special importance due to Navakalevar. Many people know little about Navakalevar and, if I can say, like Kumbh Mela, lakhs of devotees pay their visit on the occasions of Navakalevar and car festival. But as usual, Odisha is always in news for the bad reasons, so this year also the Navakalevar grabbed the attention of the national media owing to mismanagement by the temple administration. However, no national media carried any news story on the relevance of Navakalevar of Lord Jagannath, neither did the state government give due publicity to this gigantic spiritual event. Like every year, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik was a mute spectator to the grand event. This occasion showed that Naveen Babu failed to prove himself as a proud Odiya but he succeeded in electoral politics. Naveen Babu has no heart for the Odiyas, no affection for the Lord Jaganath, and that is proved now. For the third consecutive term Naveen Babu has been ruling the state, still he always reads a written speech with poor pronunciation in Odiya, as if he could not read, write or speak Odiya. The state government has got huge funds for the occasion and this year the central government also sanctioned a huge amount for the infrastructure, transport, health and communication and security arrangements. But despite having huge funds, the state government badly failed in fulfilling the urgent demands of the devotees, which is a shame on part of the state government.
Jagannath is an inseparable part of Odisha’s cultural identity. For the common masses, their lives revolve around Lord Jagannath. The Panji (almanac) and the Mukti Mandap define the movement of the life of the people of Odisha. The deep faith that Odiyas foster in the Lord is seen from the various festivals that are celebrated the year round. The relevance that Jagannath has on locals cannot be realised outside the state. The Odiya culture has a deep (milk & water) relationship with Jagannath Sanskriti.
The complex rituals and rites of the temple are unique. No other Hindu temple has so many set rules for worship and religious conduct. For this paraphernalia, there are about 6,000 hereditary temple servitors. They are classified into 119 categories of sevayats. A select few get part of the offerings made by the devotees, the rest receive paltry emoluments from the temple administration. Many visitors to the temple face harassments of these pandas.
The Navakalevar was a total disaster this year. From the day they set out to search for the holy trees, the Daitapatis indulged in open sacrilege and blasphemy. The temple administration was a mute spectator. The Neem trees for the sacred ‘Daru’ was inexpiably located in the midst of crowded habitations. The issue has taken a political hue in which the BJD government, ministers of which are mired in the issue, has been cornered. The media went to town, grabbing every opportunity to spread both news and rumours; they knew that the gullible devotees would lap up all crap that was dished out. The state government went into a withdrawal mode, blaming the Centre for delayed projects. The blame game was played out on local TV shows with poor taste. Everyone blamed the other.
The government blamed the opposition for politicising the issue; the opposition was up in arms and cited the ineptitude of the officials and ministers involved in the work. The Shankaracharya of Puri Govardhan Peeth Swami Nischalananda Saraswati was not at all consulted for the auspicious ritual. In fact, Shankaracharyaji was literally insulted by the temple administration. The Gajapati of Puri did not mince his words, the Daitapatis blamed the temple administration, and the administrator suspended three Daitapatis. In the end, it was the faithful people who lost. The realisation that the Navakalevar was not a tourist event, it was much more than that, came much later.
The Daitapatis had fisticuffs among themselves during the Brahma Parivartan inside the sanctum sanctorum. The tiff ensued due to the insistence of a group of servitors who wanted to ‘touch’ the ‘Brahma’ while others opposed it. This group forced themselves into the secret ritual and it is alleged that they took pictures of the “Daru Brahma” using their mobile phones. It is also alleged that their skirmish delayed the ‘darkness only’ ritual by eighteen long hours.
Every Odiya worth his salt is disgusted with the way things have been handled for Navakalevar. They want exemplary punishments for those involved in hurting their deep-rooted sentiments. The Shankaracharya has fuelled the fire further by forecasting an apocalypse in the coming days, as the administration is not following the age-old traditions of Lord Jagannath and the government is not respecting the saints and acharyas who have established a system and spiritual path for the society for the betterment of humanity. He says that the government administration can never forcefully abandon the age-old traditions and the spiritual Guru is always at the top and has the final say in the Jagannath temple rituals.
As one of the poorest state of the nation, Odisha has been battered by natural disasters regularly. It has been in the news for all the wrong news, be it cyclones, scams, killings of tribals, kidnappings by Maoists, etc. The Navakalevar was one golden opportunity to showcase this beautiful state to the world. The sentiments of crores of Jagannath devotees have been deeply hurt. There have been Navakalevars before and there will be Navakalevars after, but let this Navakalevar be one in which, besides the change of the forms of the Lords, there should be change in the mindsets of the religious intermediaries.