We were rushed through the Lord Jagannath temple
like cattle. Our own Panda came and asked us for donation for Anna Daan (feeding
the poor) but we insisted on depositing the money with the temple office and
taking proper receipt. But many other visitors who were unaware of such official
arrangement were seen paying off the Pandas.
In the complex, one could see Pandas making
devotees sit in various corners and perform rituals with basic hymns like
“Shantakaram, Bhujaga Sayanam” that one learnt, being a Brahmin, in the
For but the gullible devotees it was something
different. Then we had to visit a sacred tree where devotees wish for something
from God and then tie a thread on the branches. One is also supposed to give up
a fruit or eatable till the wish if fulfilled. The devotee is supposed to untie
the thread after the wish is fulfilled and the Panda prays for “freeing” you
from that vow. So goes the legend.
To my (and my devout wife’s) astonishment I found
that this is a big racket. We saw a young man in trousers and shirt sitting at
the tree, along with a priest. Our Panda murmured something to them and then we
were made to sit and chant some mantras. “Take this flower, hold some money,
close your eyes and pray,” ordered the Panda. “What are you offering for freeing
yourself from your vow?” he asked and we offered Rs.101 which we thought was
The Panda loudly laughed at us and asked us in a
taunting tone: “How can you expect the God to free you from your vow with just
People offer Rs 5,000 onward and see these
offerings,” he said showing us some seemingly silver-lined pieces of cloth tied
to the tree. After much bargaining he agreed to Rs 500 and made us say in Hindi:
“Hey Bhagwan, Humein Mukt Karo” – that is something that we could have done
It was drizzling throughout and the entire temple
area was sticky and slippery. “That’s because of the pure ghee that pours into
the making of Bhog for the god,” our Panda explained.
We wanted to offer Uttareeyams to gods and we
handed them over to our Panda. He asked for Dakshina to do the ritual and he
wouldn’t agree for Rs 50. “How can you satisfy the Thakur (meaning Lord Krishna)
with just Rs. 50. You need to pay more,” he told us and settled for Rs 100!
The Panda who earlier told us that he would not
like to commercialise our pilgrimage would not relent until we paid Rs 500 as
his own fees!
Day two – Visit to Jajpur Birijadevi temple. This
place is supposed to be one of the 18 Shaktipeeths of goddess Parvati. Here
again, the Pandas pounced on us and despite we saying that we don’t need any
help, one of them took the initiative and led us in. Officially, the fee for
puja/archan was just Rs 20 but the Panda demanded money for feeding the Brahmins
in the temple complex.
We then moved on to Lingraj temple at Bhubaneshwar
and faced similar experience. Couple of Pandas volunteered to guide us saying
“pay us whatever you like” and led us in. While we could see an official priest
performing pujas inside, the Panda who was with us performed his own ritual for
us uttering some sentences in Hindi. Then came the anti-climax as tried to make
us commit a large amount for Bhog and Anna Daan for Brahmins around. We
bargained and wife settled for Rs. 600! The Panda quietly took away the money
and said he will get back with the Prasad. He then asked his junior to get a box
of made with palm leaves that contained some sweet items. “You should have paid
at least 3,000 rupees,” the Panda told us as we marched out.
Our taxi driver jokingly told me that I should
have gone wearing a Dhoti and with a Gamcha on my shoulders and bargained
One must admit that the police in Puri, which is
always crowded, are doing an excellent job by regulating traffic and not
allowing any private vehicles within one KM of the temple. But the parking lot
is woefully inadequate and the entrance and exit are very narrow.
Puri is not a clean city. You see herds of stray
cattle around with none cleaning the dung on the roads. The filth gets
compounded during rains. As Indians, we lack basic civic sense as we litter the
roads, spit after chewing beetle leaves (and tobacco). The situation is no
different at Puri and near the Lingraj temple.
Isn’t there a solution to the problems that can
ensure the pilgrims freedom for Pandas?
The temples are supposed to be run by the State
Government and they have Executive Officers appointed everywhere. They can
regulate the flow of pilgrims into temples and have officially certified guides
at a fee. The Pandas, if they wish, can be officially recruited and sent out
with batches of devotees. Let there be a price tag and a proper receipt for
everything that one does in the temple. The devotees can even get tax exemptions
since the payments go to the endowments department.
The infrastructure too needs to be upgraded. The
Government that earns from the temples must concretise the roads, build proper
pavements and storm water drainage system so that water doesn’t accumulate on
For hawkers and those selling the temple
merchandise, the government could have a dedicated zone.
Puri and other temple towns need to have proper
public toilets. The government might as well as the private sector to build and
maintain the facilities and they will be happy to do the job as part of their
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activity.
One could perhaps learn from Tirupati where agents
of god have been eliminated and all payments in the temple town are official,
with receipts. TTD (Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams) trust has also built a
shopping zone with Lord Balaji merchandise.
Cleanliness is next to godliness and we tend to
forget to maintain cleanliness in all matters that we do at holy places.
is a veteran media professional, based out of Mumbai, is a frequent traveler to
This article intends to end
exploitation of the pilgrims who come to Odisha from all over the world. It does
not intend, even remotely, to hurt any religious sentiments.