Odisha government denies proposal to open Srimandir's Ratna Bhandar after ASI gaffe

The inner chamber of Ratna Bhandar, also called Bhitara Bhandar, has not been opened since 1985.
An aerial view of Shree Jagannath Temple, Puri
An aerial view of Shree Jagannath Temple, PuriPhoto | Express

BHUBANESWAR: Hours after an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) official announced that Ratna Bhandar of the Srimandir will be opened on July 8, the Odisha government on Wednesday stepped in to clarify that it has not received any proposal to this effect from the managing committee of the Shree Jagannath Temple yet.

Law Minister Prithiviraj Harichandan said no such decision has been taken either by the temple’s Chhatisha Nijog or the state government.

A Law department press release soon followed, stating, “No proposal from Shree Jagannath Temple managing committee regarding opening of Ratna Bhandar has been received by the government today. If any such proposal is received by the government in the future, necessary action will be taken.”

Controversy started when ASI superintending archaeologist Dibishida Gadnayak made the gaffe before the media after attending the meeting of the managing committee of the temple at Puri. The meeting, chaired by Puri Gajapati Dibyasingha Deb, was to take stock of the preparations for conduct of the Snana Purnima. Gadnayak told mediapersons that it was decided in the meeting to open the temple treasury on July 8 after Rath Yatra.

However, SJTA chief administrator Vir Vikram Yadav said the 12-member panel under the chairmanship of Justice Arijit Pasayat, former judge of the Supreme Court, will meet and take a call on the modalities required for opening of the treasury during Rath Yatra. “The modalities will be sent to the state government and it will decide when to open the Ratna Bhandar,” he added. 

With confusion abounding, Harichandan told mediapersons that the state government has not made any decision yet. “However, before this crucial decision, an ASI official made this irresponsible statement on the opening of Ratna Bhandar which is completely wrong. The state government will take appropriate action against him,” the minister said.

At the meeting, the SJTA members including sand artist Sudarshan Patnaik raised the issue of the immediate need for conservation of Ratna Bhandar. The inner chamber of Ratna Bhandar, also called Bhitara Bhandar, has not been opened since 1985.

The last inventory was conducted in 1978. In 2018, a 17-member team had entered the Bahara Ratna Bhandar but could not step inside the Bhitara Bhandar in absence of its keys. Then, the committee had observed that there were large vertical cracks on the walls. Besides, plaster had peeled off the walls producing a hollow sound, while wrought iron beams supporting the ceiling were missing and stones had fallen from the corbels. The walls and floors were damp indicating water seepage.

“The report has been pending for the last six years as no step has been taken for repair and conservation of the Ratna Bhandar. There is a possibility that the structural damages may worsen over the years, leading to seepages inside the chambers,” said Patnaik.

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