Fight over 'dakshina' takes an ugly turn

The incidents, particularly the clash between servitors which reportedly occurred over ‘dakshina’, shocked everybody as never before in the history of the 12th century shrine.
In fact, the three deities of the shrine — Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra — had to go through a ‘Mahasnan’ — the great bath to purify the deities — after the clash.

Devotees squarely blame the servitors for all the ugly incidents in the shrine. According to them, the servitors not only fight among themselves over the ‘dakshina’ but there are occasions when they misbehave with devotees over donations. There are also instances of servitors manhandling the devotees if they (devotees) refused to pay donations.
Some of the devotees also hold the state government and the temple administration responsible for the unpleasant incidents inside the shrine visited by lakhs of people from across the country everyday.

Apathy

In the past, there were instances of devotees getting injured following attacks by servitors on different issues including payment of ‘dakshina’. In some cases, aggrieved devotees had filed complaints with the temple authorities. However, no punishment had been initiated against the culprits. This had encouraged the criminal-minded elements among the servitors to indulge in misdeeds inside the temple.

The associations of servitors of the temple have already expressed their regrets over the recent incidents. They, however, charge the temple administration of not listening to their grievances, particularly on the issue of ‘dakshina’.

According to the servitors, despite their repeated appeals to fix a salary structure for them, the temple administration has not shown any interest. “The government and the temple administration must realise the needs of the servitors. The unpleasant incidents such as the recent clash inside the sanctum sanctorum would continue unless the servitors are paid monthly salaries like many other important shrines in the country”, said a servitor.

The temple administration’s failure to identify non-servitors who roam around freely inside the shrine posing themselves as servitors has also been another reason behind frequent incidents inside the temple. According to servitors’ associations, they had raised the matter with the administration several times in the past but no concrete step had been taken to tackle the problem.

Soon after the clash between the servitors, the Jagannath temple administration — which is headed by a senior IAS officer — had conducted an inquiry and subsequently suspended two servitors from service.

However, devotees feel that the steps taken by the temple administration is not enough to restore order in the shrine. More concrete and firm action should be taken to save the reputation of the shrine, which has already taken a beating following the recent incidents.

Some devotees are also of the view that there is a need for a training programme for servitors of the temple. The temple administration had conducted a training camp for servitors a couple of years ago. But the recent incidents confirm that the training camp was a futile exercise.

Ironically, the ugly incidents are not confined to Puri temple alone. A few months back, another important shrine in the state — the Lingaraj temple in Bhubaneswar — witnessed a series of conflicts and armed clashes between the temple servitors over different issues. The daily rituals of the shrine had come to a grinding halt for almost a week — triggering strong resentment among the devotees within the state as well as from outside, who visit the temple in hundreds everyday.

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