Devotees climbing Rath: It's all about the money, stupid!
Convinced that touching the deities on the chariot is the sure-fire way to salvation, most devotees are ready to pay a fortune to get this rare privilege.
Bhubaneshwar: Daitapatis, the bodyguards of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra during the annual Rath Yatra (Car Festival) in Puri, have raised the banner of revolt yet again.
Hardly had the Sri Jagannath Temple Management Committee, headed by the Gajapati King of Puri Divyasingh Dev, endorsed the recommendation of the Shankaracharya of Govardhan Peeth Swami Nischalananda Saraswati to bar devotees from climbing the chariots during the annual nine-day sojourn of the deities when the daitapatis came out all guns blazing.
"The opinion of the Shankaracharya and others is not binding on us," thundered a defiant Jagannath Swain Dasmahapatra, chief of the Daita Nijog. 'Why didn't he give his advice 10, 15 or 20 years ago?" he asked.
He justified the climbing of the chariots by devotees saying it is a centuries-old practice that gives the devotees the special privilege of embracing the lords once a year. In what amounted to a veiled warning, he also said that he foresaw a serious dispute between daitas and the temple administration over the issue during next year's Rath Yatra.
The temple administration can take the threat lightly only at its own peril. It only has to recall what happened during the Rath Yatra this year to realise that the daita chief's threat is not mere empty rhetoric.
The temple administration, which had decided to bar devotees from mounting the chariots this year, had to eat humble pie and quietly relent after the daitas threatened to boycott the entire set of rituals associated with the Rath Yatra.
The daitas proved their power and clout, if any proof was needed at all, a second time in a few days when the administration, after initially threatening to take action against the two servitors who allegedly manhandled Italian born, Bhubaneswar based Odissi dancer Illeana Citaristi on the Rath, meekly abandoned the idea and got the two sides to patch up instead.
The temple administration had requested the Shankaracharya, the permanent president of the Mukti Mandap, the highest seat of religious scholars and pundits of the temple, to give a ruling on the matter after a similar incident last year when a foreigner married to a Hindu woman was reportedly thrown off the Rath by a servitor.
Though the daitapatis have relented to an extent by putting off a final decision on the issue till Sunday, the temple administration is dreading the prospect of another showdown with them during the next Rath Yatra.
Aware of the nuisance potential of the daitas, even the Shankaracharya, while maintaining that the holy scriptures did not allow devotees to touch the deities on the chariot, held out an olive branch by recommending that the daitas be compensated for the financial loss they are likely to suffer on account of the decision on the ban on climbing the chariots.
This potential 'financial loss' is at the heart of the showdown between the two sides. Daitas, who are the designated servitors performing a variety of rituals during the Rath Yatra, rake in the moolah during this nine-day period allowing, helping and facilitating devotees to mount the chariots and even embrace the deities. They earn the lion's share of the year's earnings in these nine days, say those who in the know.
Convinced that touching the deities on the chariot is the sure-fire way to salvation, most devotees are ready to pay a fortune to get this rare privilege. No wonder the daitas lose no opportunity to fleece them, beat them up and even throw them off the chariot - as it happened in the case of Illeana this year and a foreigner last year - if they refuse to pay the amount asked for.
Ironically, despite all the fleecing, manhandling and worse at the hands of the daitapatis, most devotees are on the side of their tormentors rather than that of the temple administration.
"The Shankarcharya says it is against the religious tenets for others to climb the Raths while the deities are seated on it. Then how is it that devotees have been allowed to climb the chariots for as long as I can remember?" asks Yudhisthir Prusty, a shopkeeper in Bhubaneswar who claims he has touched the deities on the rath every year for the past 12-13 years.
It is a truly a case of Mian Bibi Raazi to Kya Karega Kaazi!
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