Puri Judge in Favor of the Abolition of Hereditary Priesthood at Jagannath Temple

By Debabrata Mohapatra, originally published in The Times of India.

The Supreme Court of India said that it received at least 12 key suggestions from Puri district judge Ambuja Mohan Das for improvement of the functioning of Jagannath temple and convenience of pilgrims. Prominent among the suggestions is the abolition of hereditary appointment of sevaks (servitors).

Hearing a petition filed by Cuttack-based lawyer Mrinalini Padhi, the Supreme Court on June 8 asked the Puri district judge to submit a report on exploitative practices (if any), deficiencies in the temple management (if any) and suggestions to improve the overall functioning of the temple. The district judge submitted his report on June 26.

Quoting the Supreme Court’s order, which contained the district judge’s suggestions, Padhi’s lawyer Subhranshu Padhi said that he (Puri judge) recommended the abolition of the hereditary appointment of servitors. “The district judge has also suggested [the] introduction of [a] queue system for hassle-free darshan, [a] complete ban on acceptance of dakshina by sevaks and identity card for servitors and staffs. The Supreme Court has in-principle accepted the district judge’s report and asked the temple administration to take action,” Padhi told TOI. A few other suggestions made by the district judge is control of temple administration on the shrine kitchen, registration of guides with temple office and ban on the use of thalis and pitchers by sevaks to receive offerings.

Significantly, justice B K Patra Commission had in 1977 was believed to have even recommended the abolition of hereditary priesthood and the offertory (dakshina) system. But his suggestions could not be implemented due to stiff opposition by servitors.

While the Supreme Court had on June 8 banned servitors from accepting dakshina from devotees, the district judge observed that “thalis and pitchers are being exhibited for [the] collection of money illegally,” the order copy read. At this stage, we may only reiterate the direction already issued and direct the administration to comply with the same. Action for violation for contempt may be considered later in the light of further material which may be placed on record, including the CCTV footages,” the order said.

The Supreme Court has asked the temple administration to upload a copy of the district judge’s report on the website of Jagannath temple administration. Besides, the copy will also be hosted on the websites of the Supreme Court and ministry of culture for two weeks.

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4 Responses to Puri Judge in Favor of the Abolition of Hereditary Priesthood at Jagannath Temple

  1. In the book “Sermons of the Guardian of Devotion – II” there is a section subtitled “Approaching the Higher World” where it seems that B.R. Śrīdhara Svāmī would have agreed that foreigners or Western devotees should not enter the temple of Purī. Is it possible that it was like that?

  2. Vāyu, please consider for a moment that any Westerner who might choose to enter the Jagannath temple would be crossing over the example of Haridas Thakur. At least for those Westerners coming in the line of Srila B.R. Sridhar-Dev Goswami, the consideration of humility will likely in most cases win out over any consideration of personal benefit. Certainly I would not expect any Westerner in Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s line to enter the temple boldly as an individual. If the change occurs, I can perhaps envision an Indian-bodied acharya inviting his Western disciples to enter the temple with him, in which case the Western devotees would enter the temple not for their personal gain but rather as seva to the spiritual master. Even then, I can envision some Western disciples humbly waiting outside the temple for Gurudeva to emerge after darshan.

  3. Western devotees are not bound to submit only to the Haridāsa Ṭhākura’s humility; there are many forms of spiritual humility in audārya-līlā. In the scriptures, furthermore, it seems there is not an ontological differentiation and hierarchy between Indian-bodied and non-Indian-bodied Vaiṣṇavas.

    I think B.R. Śrīdhara Svāmī was very aware of the stagnant casteism of paṇḍās and sevakas in charge of the Śrī Jagannātha’s temple. Haridāsa Ṭhākura, Rūpa Gosvāmī, and Sanātana Gosvāmī respected the smārta-brāhmaṇas but did not engage with them in their particular customs. Seeing the material orientation that such priests developed, the Vaiṣṇava pioneers chose not to enter into conflicts that could disturb the nascent gauḍīya community. That is why just a formal and avoidant conduct was approved. Historically, neither Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura nor Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura nor Svāmī Mahārāja agreed with the inflexible and marginalizing customs of smārta-paṇḍitas. Why would Śrīdhara Svāmī depart from that line of thought?

    When the devotees fail to develop an awareness of social justice, the Lord uses the secular powers to carry out His will.

    • Vayu, your replay is just brilliant.
      We are part of Mahaprabhu’s movement of divine Universal Love. And this movement is DYNAMIC. It is going to cause a huge revolution in all humanity. That is the prediction of Gaur Hari and our acharyas. We are watering the seeds of Prema Yuga, where will be no more place for frivolitys like this. And Lord Jagannath will be the main deity of Prema Yuga with His arms extended to embrace all His daughters and sons, from all the planet.
      Jagannath is, along with Gaura Hari, the savior of fallen souls in Kali yug. They dont see our weakness and aparadhas, They just see our efforts to do bhakti.
      Where else can the humanity come and take shelter? The doors of the temple of Lord of Universe should be open to all human beings. HARE KRISHNA, JAY NITAI GAURA HARIBOL!

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