**Puri/Bhubaneswar:** Following the attack on media by some sebayats (Jagannath temple servitors) during the ‘Niladri Bije’ (return of Lords to temple’s sanctum sanctorum), one accused servitor has been arrested by the Singhadwara police while one more is likely to be arrested.
The incident took place on Sunday evening.
Despite the ban on climbing atop the chariots, four female members of the sevitors’ families, including three minors, climbed yet again on the chariots of Lord Balabhadra and Lord Jagannath during ‘Niladri Bije’.
It delayed the ‘Pahandi ‘ of the Trinity to the temple.
The whole furore started when a servitor, Damodar Mahasuara (chief cook), was spotted taking his daughter to the chariot and was stopped by District Collector Arvind Agarwal warning to arrest him if he dared to take the girl atop the chariot. But, Damodar retaliated strongly saying it was the right of the families of the servitors to climb atop and no one can challenge them, not even the administration.
Commotion ensued, delaying the ritual of ‘Niladri Bije’, but the servitors had taken their stand against the administration, showing clearly the mis-coordination between the sebayats and the district administration.
Law Minister Arun Sahu, along with Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) chief administrator Suresh Mohapatra, stood as mute spectators to the whole incident.
As some journalists approached the servitors regarding this issue, they were manhandled in front of the cameras making it go live all over the world. The cameras of some media persons were also damaged in the presence of police and administrative officials.
The concerned journalists lodged a complaint against the unruly servitors in the local police station. Police assured them of taking proper action after investigation into this matter.
The genesis of the whole debate lies in an incident which occurred back in 2012 when a US national was beaten up by a group of servitors atop a chariot during ‘darshan’.
Controversy deepened in 2013 when Bhubaneswar-based Italian Odissi dancer, Ileana Citaristi, was allegedly mishandled by the servitors during the Yatra atop a chariot. Later, the sebayats apologised and a compromise was reached at, but the SJTA sought the view of Puri Shankaracharya, Swami Nischalananda Saraswati on the issue.
The seer opined that none except the sebayats, associated with the rituals of the deities and go out in the three chariots during the the Rath Yatra, should be allowed on the chariots. Hindu pandits from different ‘mutts’ supported the Puri seer.
Daitapatis, a particular sect of servitors, opposed Shankaracharya’s view. They claimed that devotees should not be prevented from climbing the chariots or touching the Lord as it is an age-old tradition.
But the king of Puri, Gajapati Maharaj Dibyasingh Deb rejected their argument by saying that the practice of attaching ladders to the chariot was introduced only in 2006.
Again in 2015, the controversy popped up when a woman named Padmini Patra climbed atop the chariot of Lord Jagannath during the Rath Yatra and a servitor named Atratana Pratihari was suspended by the SJTA chief administrator.
A 13-year old girl, daughter of a Suara servitor, was found climbing on the chariot of Lord Jagannath, ‘Nandighosa’, despite a ban by Orissa High Court and SJTA on climbing chariot as well as touching of deities.