Thousands of devotees were left stranded for hours outside Puri’s Shree Jagannath Temple on Friday, after servitors shut the gates and refused to carry out rituals citing highhandedness of local policemen a day earlier.
According to temple scholar Dr Harihar Kanungo, the temple, which has been an important site of worship since the tenth century, saw a complete shutdown for the first time in its history.
In October, temple rituals had been delayed by two or three hours after protesting servitors refused to carry out their duties, protesting Shree Jagannath Temple Administration’s (SJTA) decision to implement a queue system for visitors on an “experimental basis”.
On Friday, the nearly 12-hour-long impasse was resolved just after 4:30 pm, when the temple servitors allowed entry to devotees and the daily rituals of Lord Jagannath resumed.
While the standoff was unfolding, Puri SP Sarthak Sarangi said, “We have registered two cases and will look at the CCTV footage. If they (servitors) don’t open the temple, we have no rights to force them”.
“If the temple doesn’t open, then bhakts cannot have a darshan. Let them view other sites, such as the sea beach”, he added. Puri Collector said he visited the servitors twice to sort out the matter.
The standoff affected visitors who had come to the temple from all over the country. They were forced to wait on the road in the biting cold. Later, some agitated devotees attempted to break from the police barricades and rush into the temple.
“If you ask the servitors why they are preventing us from entering, they refer us to the temple administration and vice versa. What is our fault?” questioned a female devotee, who said she brought her 90-year-old father for darshan.
According to sources, an argument broke out Thursday between a servitor, Bhabani Mohapatra, and some policemen over allowing entry to some visitors. The servitor claimed he was manhandled by the police. On Friday morning, the servitors went on a ‘strike’ demanding an apology.
The King of Puri Gajapati Maharaj Dibyasingh Deb appealed to the government to resolve the issue. Law Minister Pratap Jena said the state government was closely monitoring the situation and working for a solution.
Servitors brewing discontent has resulted in this situation”, said temple managing committee member Ramchandra Das Mohapatra. Over the past few months, temple servitors have had several clashes with the state government over the loss of keys to the Ratna Bhandara (room of jewels), SC direction to examine abolition of servitors’ hereditary rights and allowing entry of non-Hindus into the temple.
Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee President Niranjan Patnaik said, “This is a very sad incident. Something t