By Biswaraj Patnaik in Puri, April 19, 2018: The Jagannath Temple is probably the most intriguely famous shrine across the world, irrespective of faith or religion of the world communities. It is known to generate maximum awe among the all kinds of people on the planet for the most wonderful culture it keeps nurturing and promoting to ensure such principles as ‘universal brotherhood’, ‘formless god’ and ‘peaceful coexistence’ apart from popularising what food is ideal for a healthy and happy living.

The Deities are made of wood and they die and get reborn as living creatures do. The sage like monarchs who founded and established the Jagannath cult did take extreme care to make the pilgrim-devotees feel great while visiting the magnificent temple. They had put in place nearly seventy-five categories of servitors to keep the temple running without hitch or problem. Each category would have at least one of its community to perform the Lord’s chores. The servitor not on duty was expected to be away from the scene only to avoid creating a crowd.

Later, when monarchy was gone after Independence, the government took over the management of the huge temple because the monarchs without control over economics and finances, kept bungling on the job. The Deities did not get service and the servitors virtually went hungry without any income for survival. Pilgrims felt hurt and dwindled in number. Much later in the twentieth century, ISCON founder ‘Prabhupada’ revived the Jagannath cult by popularising the scriptural fact that Lord Jagannath is one of the principal incarnations of Lord Krishna.

Thus, the car festival is a very popular event today across the cities of the world. Ironically, the ISCON devotees, who are any time more ‘Hindu’ than the most India-born Hindus practising the basic principles of ‘food choice’, communal harmony and philanthropy, are not allowed to enter the temple at Puri. ISCON made car festival immensely popular and the Puri servitors keep basking in the glory brought by the former.

The servitors of today do not even know little of any fundamental principle that is meant to govern their conduct and behaviour. Their number has grown way beyond the original seventy-five categories, each performing a specific task. A Hindu union minister, put the car festival on the national television live and a colleague chiffon minister of Odisha then embraced a few of the servitors as clan and all hell has gone broken loose ever since then. When they were in want of food and bottom-level social security, they were very decently behaved.

But now that they are known faces due to television and that the temple has begun earning some good enough money due to bigger footfall and a respectable ‘Hundi’ collection, most of the servitors have begun imagining all cash and products are their entitlement. The good ones who are truthful and sincere are just too good and timid. The unruly, greedy ones are militant and grossly ill-behaved. Only due to several public interest litigation cases, they have been tamed a little- the bad ones of course.

After a long time, a truly devout, sincere chief administrator has appeared on the scene. After his takeover, in the history of Hundi, the highest ever daily collection of more than seven lakh odd rupees was witnessed recently. He knows his job well: Keep the devotees happy first and the society at peace; raise the reputation and image of the Odia race, and also never to see any servitor unhappy due to want of resources that ensure a dignified livelihood.

All was well until two days ago when the High Court ordered that only servitors on duty be allowed to enter the temple premises to be part of rituals. The temple cook community is called the ‘Suara’ class. They were highly agitated to know the High Court order and the administration’s firmness to obey the judicial order. The Suara servitors struck work and made trouble so badly that the Deities went without food for two consecutive days. Only yesterday, the issue was resolved mainly because the big festival of ‘Akhyaya Trutiya’ is a popular one and there is some scope for earning big money. The present Chief administrator, the district magistrate and the top cop have formed a grand team and for the first time in known history, wonderful reform processes are on.

Servitors, for long defamed owing to crude and uncouth behaviour by some of them, have become sensitised to good things in life. But still they have to go a long way in reforming themselves on the public conduct front and being good to the devotees and the visitors.

Hopefully, the High Court will rule yet again in clearer terms so as to enable the temple administration to resolve issue by fixing the rebel and agitating servitors at the drop of a hat. Only then, the temple will regain its lost glory and dignity. Odias will also be able to take great pride.

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