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People entering the ‘Ratna Bhandar’, the treasury of Lord Jagannath at the famous temple in Puri in Odisha, for inspection, would have to do it wearing only “gamcha”, the traditional cotton towel, a temple official said on Thursday. This is one of the conditions laid down by the Odisha government before the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) while granting permission to open the ‘Ratna Bhandar’ after 34 years for inspection by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Precious jewellery and ornaments of the deities are kept in Ratna Bhandar, which was last inspected in 1984 when only three of its seven chambers were opened. No one knows exactly what was stored in the other chambers. “The people entering the Ratna Bhandar will be subjected to frisking both at the time of entry and exit. They will not be allowed to carry any of their personal belongings inside, not even clothes. We will provide them with traditional gamchas,” SJTA chief administrator P K Jena said.
The state government’s law department yesterday granted conditional permission to open the Ratna Bhandar for inspection by experts of the ASI to assess its structural stability and safety. The inspection process will be video-graphed and the temple administration will keep a record of names and addresses of those entering it, Jena said adding that they will not be allowed to wear ornaments or electronic devices. He had said no assessment of the ornaments or valuables kept inside the Ratna Bhandar will be undertaken.
Jena said the SJTA will ensure that nothing other than the walls and roof of the Ratna Bhandar is inspected and the video-grapher will be instructed not to take snaps of valuables inside the Ratna Bhandar. The SJTA is also mulling to involve members of Snake Helpline, an organisation that helps catch snakes for their release in their natural habitat later. R N Mishra, who was the administrator of the temple in 1984, said that those who had entered the Ratna Bhandar that year for inspection had heard hissing sounds inside the area. As only ‘diyas’ were allowed as source of light during those days, the inspection was stopped, he said.
The date of inspection will be decided at a meeting of the Chhatisa Nijog, the apex body of temple servitors, this evening. On March 22, the Orissa High Court had ordered the ASI to inspect the structures of the Ratna Bhandar on March 26 and 27. After the inspection, the ASI said its outer surface was good. The condition of inside structures would be inspected after it is opened.
The court is monitoring the repair undertaken by the ASI in the 12th-century shrine since 2016, while adjudicating over a PIL seeking judicial intervention for effective repair and renovation of the temple. The Shree Jagannath Temple is located in Puri, one of the four ‘Dhams’ the Hindus considered holy. The other three ‘Dhams’ are Badrinath, Dwarka and Rameswaram.