Improve crowd control at Jagannath Temple

The long holiday weekend added to the chaos as thousands of visitors had to wait for hours in the blistering heat to get a ‘darshan’ of the deities.
Devotees enter and exit the Jagannath Temple in Puri, after the state government opened all four doors for the public.
Devotees enter and exit the Jagannath Temple in Puri, after the state government opened all four doors for the public.Photo | EPS

The decision to open all four gates of Shree Jagannath temple at Puri has turned into a bigger challenge for the Odisha government with the 12th-century shrine drawing an unprecedented number of devotees last week. The teeming crowd, both outside the complex and inside, exposed an acute lack of preparedness from the temple and local administrations.

The long holiday weekend added to the chaos as thousands of visitors had to wait for hours in the blistering heat to get a ‘darshan’ of the deities. Soon, stories of their ordeal began to circulate, prompting the government to deploy more police personnel to manage the situation. An additional director-general of police was also dispatched to assess the problem.

The Mohan Charan Majhi-government’s first decision after taking oath of office was in response to a long-pending demand. The previous dispensation had permitted entry only through the East gate of Srimandir since the pandemic, closing the other entrances to the devotees. The decision was also supposed to send a clear message that the BJP government is serious about honouring its commitments.

However, the administration clearly did not expect the numbers to swell to such an extent. It was a Catch-22 situation—the devotees were able to access the shrine through all four gates, but with limited points of entry to and exit from the sanctum sanctorum, the crowd in the perambulation areas grew to an uncontrollable level. This meant that as pilgrims jostled for space inside, those standing outside had to wait under gruelling conditions for hours.

The post-Covid period’s multi-fold jump in the number of devotees must be assessed. The government would also do well to study the carrying capacity in the temple complex, based on which it must devise de-congestion plans from various sectors of the shrine that has a string of satellite temples that too attract the faithful. The Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) and the servitors’ bodies must ensure the deities’ ‘nitis’ are performed on time.

Since devotees are not allowed during the rituals, any delay compounds the problems of crowd management. For now, the SJTA has taken a few measures to increase manpower and improve crowd control. But with the Rath Yatra drawing close, the government must address the issue thoroughly and avoid any misstep when the nation’s eyes are on the temple.

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The New Indian Express
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