The systematic destruction of Hindu religious institutions which has happened under the secular raj – which is nothing but continuation of the British raj by brown sahibs – is underestimated and understated. One of the prime examples for such denuding of Hindu institutions from a particular geography, as well as people’s minds, can be seen at Jagannath Puri.
Puri, one of the Char Dhams is considered to be the place where Lord Vishnu eats food offered everyday by the devout Hindus. The Prasad of the temple is celebrated as Mahaprasad and considered as holy, which can never be impure. This city used to have more than 700 mutts which catered the needs of yatris who throng the city for the darshan of Jagannatha.
Almost every religious order/sampradaaya used to have its own mutt in Puri to cater to their adherents. After the administration of the temple was taken over by the secular government, mutts of Puri lost patronage of Jagannath temple. While several mutts had become extinct even under the British rule due to unfavorable policies and circumstances, the situation has degraded much further in Swatantra Bharat.
Currently, less than 50 mutts are present in Puri. Where earlier yatris used to stay at the mutts at almost no cost while visiting Puri, now a days people are forced to stay in various hotels which have mushroomed in Puri and its vicinity at considerable cost.
What we are seeing in Puri is a classic example of government’s interference destroying Hindu social institutions and support system along with commercialization of pilgrim spots in the name of tourism. The level of callousness shown by the government towards Puri temple can be gauged by this one fact – no annadhana (free offering of food to the hungry) is seen within the great temple despite the temple being one of the richest and most popular temples in Bharat.
Puri, the holy town, is promoted as a honeymoon spot these days! The beaches of Puri, which are called Svarga dwaar (doors of heaven), where Hindus of Odisha do asthi visarjan of their parents and forefathers, is dotted with hotels and resorts catering to honeymoon couples. The government of Odisha has even opened a liquor shop in Svarga dwaar to cater to such tourists. We are treated to an unfortunate spectacle where drunkards are seen near the place where bereaved family members are seen performing ritual rites for their dear departed ones.
The very atmosphere of this spiritual town has been polluted and tarnished by the secular governments which is unable to make a distinction between spiritual yatra and mere material tourism. The entire land of a pilgrimage spot is holy for the Hindus and we see the religious rights of the Hindu community are being trampled upon by the government agencies with shocking insensitivity.
Even till two decades ago, the grand road where the famous Puri Rath Yatra happens used to be free of non-vegetarian stalls/restaurants. Famous pilgrimage spots are expected to be free of such food – eg: Vaishno Devi in Jammu. Denial of spaces of spiritual haven to the Hindus by allowing liquor and meat to invade the vicinity of the grand temple shows that secular government machinery is least bothered about maintaining sanctity of Hindu holy places.
Commercialization of temples and temple towns has been a bane of Swatantra Bharat. It is generally seen that many famous temples run by the government have ‘special tickets’ on the purchase of which one can jump queue/go nearer to the deities compared to others. We are able to see such discrimination happening within Puri as well. Such economic discrimination imposed upon the pilgrims is a crass violation of spiritual atmosphere in the Hindu temples. Poor Hindus are made to feel that they are outsiders and downtrodden even within the temples – as they see a difference in facilities advanced to the rich and the poor. Such commercialization of temples wherein the presiding deity has been downgraded to the level of some interesting exhibit in a museum, rather than the very image of the Lord himself, will lead to discontent among the minds of the poor masses who visit the temples with great faith for spiritual solace.
The sum total of these various acts of negligence, wilful distortion, commercialization, destruction of spiritual space and holy character of a pilgrimage spot by various government departments has led to a situation wherein holy pilgrimages are becoming less holier day by day. Just this year, Puri district administration has begun a Puri beach carnival, modelled on the Goa beach carnival, supposedly showcasing that the town is much more than ‘just a sacred pilgrimage’. These acts form direct attack on the very soul of a spiritual town like Puri.
We may see such examples being used to destroy other pilgrimage spots like Vaishno Devi, Badrinath, Kedarnath etc. if left unchecked. Alienation of temple lands has not been escaped by Puri either. Latest case is Vedanta Resources being sold about 500 acres of land owned by Puri temple at a throwaway price of one lac per acre. Supreme Court seems to be ready to allow the same now – no one seems to be bothered that a temple is being stripped of its land at a throwaway price by an MNC giant which shall be able to mint money through its ‘university project’.
Attacks on Hindu temples by liberals have not spared Jagannath Puri either. The Gajapati Maharaja, descendant of erstwhile rulers of Odisha, has been banned from arriving at the Rath Yatra upon an elephant. Since 2008, no elephants are seen in Rath yatra and the Gajapati Maharaja is made to visit the rath yatra without a gaja (elephant). Somehow, animal welfare does not mean banning cruel means of killing an animal for meat (like halal), but stopping animals from being used in temple festivals – stripping the festivals of part of their traditions, grandeur and awe.
That the government machinery can get away with all such ignominy foisted upon the temple shows that Hindus and their Dharma are taken for granted by the secular government. Festivals and temples are seen as mere tourist opportunities to be economically exploited (apart from temple lands and properties which are anyway exploited by governments) with nary a care for customs, traditions and spiritual needs of the Hindus.
Secular government has no business in temples. The so-called division between ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ activities of a Hindu temple is a sham. Anything and everything pertaining to temple is spiritual and religious for a Hindu. There is nothing ‘secular’ (devoid of divine) with regards to a temple for a devoted Hindu. Laws and even Constitution need to be changed to reflect the true nature of Hindu temples and their pilgrimage spots. In the next article, we shall see how a Hindu mutt in Puri has been viciously targeted by the government.
Note: This article has been jointly written by Dasyavevrka (@dasyavevrka) and Paanchajanya (@paanchajanyaa)
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