Are the much-needed reforms in Shri Jagannath Temple in Puri coming unstuck in the face of stiff resistance from the firmly entrenched system? The persisting disturbances and disruptions in the temple despite the Supreme Court monitoring point to the very fact and raise concerns. The servitors continue to stamp their might and pull the strings in temple functions with the same impunity.
On Friday, they shut the gates of the temple for more than 12 hours protesting against an alleged assault of a servitor by police. This led to a chaotic situation outside the temple with devotees scuffling with policemen to gain entry, while inside, the deities were left hungry for half a day. The temple management and the administration too are equally to blame as their non-reconciliatory approach allowed the small dispute to blow out of proportion, causing serious disruption to rituals.
The incident exposes the very factors threatening to derail the reform process carried out under the watch of the apex court. Neither the servitors nor the administration is ready to cede space or work in tandem for streamlining temple functions and ending exploitative practices. The servitors may have agreed to the Supreme Court’s suggestions on reforms, but faced with the prospect of losing hegemony, they have adopted covert tactics to foil every reform attempt. The violence that had followed the introduction of a queue system for devotees in October is an instance. The administration’s approach of thrusting reforms without trying to forge a consensus among all stakeholders also worsened matters.
The state government, with obvious political considerations, has preferred to remain a distant observer. It can no longer afford to do so. It should make efforts to bring everyone on the same page to ensure smooth implementation of the reforms. The introduction of a ticket system for darshan and ‘Mahaprasad’ rate chart in the temple from January could well be the way forward.