Mystery of the missing keys triggers treasure hunt at Puri's Jagannath Temple
The Naveen Patnaik government in Odisha ordered a judicial inquiry after the keys were reported missing on 4 April.
Stashed inside the inner chambers of the Jagannath Temple in Puri, is the safety of the treasure trove of gold, diamond and antique jewellery and other precious gems compromised?
This is the question haunting not only priests and temple authorities but also the Naveen Patnaik government in Odisha, as no one knows who has the keys to open the doors to the treasure — believed to be worth hundreds of crores of rupees.
Officially, the doors of the inner chambers of the Ratna Bhandar have not been opened since 1985, when an inventory was made. It is not yet known when the keys went missing as the matter came to light only on 4 April, when an inspection team was examining the state of the 12th-century shrine's structure.
While the Odisha government has ordered a judicial inquiry into the case of the missing keys, the Shri Jagannath Temple Administration claims that the safety of the treasury has not been compromised as the wax-coated locks and other security systems are still intact.
Besides the king of Puri, known as Gajapati Maharaj, the Shankaracharya of Puri and the Bhandar mekap (official) are the only two others who are supposed to have the keys to the Ratna Bhandar.
A senior servitor of the temple, Rama Krushna Das Mohapatra, has asked the king to clarify whether he has the keys. After meeting the chief minister, Mohapatra said: “Gajapati Maharaj (the king) is the first servitor of Lord Jagannath and also the chairman of the temple committee. He should call a meeting soon and clarify whether he has the keys. If he can share information on the missing keys, there would be no need for a judicial inquiry.”
What's hidden behind the walls of the temple?
The storehouse contains antique gold and diamond jewellery and precious stones, besides silver utensils and valuable ornaments. All together, the Ratna Bhandar is believed to have more than 120 kilograms of gold and 221 kilograms of silver, all belonging to the trinity of Hindu gods Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra.
The treasure also holds historical significance as most of the jewellery and ornaments are antiques. A scripture inside the temple says that Gajapati Kapilendra Deb — the founder of the Gajapati dynasty — had donated a large amount of gold and ornaments to the temple in 1466 AD.
According to folklore, the mysterious inner chambers of the Ratna Bhandar should never be opened as it will only bring disaster. Lord Jagannath will never forgive the deed, warned 65-year-old servitor Narasingha Pujapanda, who has been working at the temple for 45 years.
Part of the Hindu 'Char Dham' pilgrimage, the Jagannath Temple — also known as Srimandir — is famous for the annual Rath Yatra, when lakhs of devotees of Hindu god Krishna crowd the temple town of Puri.
On 4 April, on the orders of the High Court of Odisha, a 16-member inspection team reached the temple to take stock of the repair work and the state of its structure. The team included the chief administrator of the temple, the king of Puri, district officials, police officers and experts from the Archaeological Survey of India.
During the study, it was found that the keys to the inner chamber were missing and the district treasury did not have them as per norms. The chief minister ordered a judicial inquiry after the subject triggered outrage in the state. The investigation is to be completed in three months.
Attacking the Biju Janata Dal government over the issue, Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee Chairman Niranjan Patnaik has demanded an inquiry into the matter either by the Central Bureau of Investigation or the Crime Branch. The Bharatiya Janata Party has demanded a response from the chief minister on the issue, which has also led to protests from several quarters.
Who governs the Jagannath Puri temple
The Jagannath Temple in Puri is administrated under the Shri Jagannath Temple Act, 1954, which saw a few amendments later, and other related legislation.
An 18-member temple management committee — comprising the king of Puri as its chairman and other officials and nominated members — is entrusted with the task of taking care of all affairs of the temple administration. It submits its reports to the Odisha Legislative Assembly.
According to reports, the collector of Puri, Arvind Agarwal, admitted at the committee meeting on 4 April that he had checked the registers on the Ratna Bhandar but did not find anything on transactions related to the treasury keys since 1970. Puri Shankaracharya Nischalananda Saraswati has also expressed concern over the issue and demanded a detailed inquiry into the matter.
Puri still hosts a king
The king of Puri is highly regarded in the temple city. Considered the first servitor of Hindu god Jagannath, he is called Gajapati Maharaj. During the Rath Yatra, he sweeps the chariots of the trinity with a golden broom and is also associated with a number of other temple rituals.
The author is a freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com.
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