Sri Jagannath Darshan for Non-Hindus



We have just recovered from the claws of Covid and learnt SMS – Sanitation, Mask and Social Distancing. Should we ignore the same and invite another virus caused pandemic? Better, to regulate and eliminate entry in to the places, where public gathering is inevitable.

Professor Ganeshi Lal, the 26thHon’ble Governor of Odisha has earned a name for himself as the peoples’ governor. Appointed on May 29th 2018, the 82 years old learned Professor Lalis at the fag end of his tenure in Odisha. He is in news as he urged PuriGajapatiDibyasingha Deb and Jagatguru Shankaracharya to allow foreign devotees to enter Sri Jagannath temple, Puri.

While addressing the inaugural function of Odisha Vision 2036 Conclave as chief guest, Lal made this controversial statement. He opined that if the foreign devotees can meet Gajapati, Shankaracharya and the servitors of Puri; they should not be debarred from getting darshan of Lord Jagannath inside the temple.He requested the Gajapati and JagatguruShankaracharjyato consider it favourably; even though many people will object.

People who object the idea say thatSrimandir is a place of worship; not a tourism site. Hence, entry of non-believers and tourist sight-seeing are strictly not allowed. Non-believers do not have to bother or know about what is within a temple.As per the temple management and priests, the reason for not allowing non-Hindus is that the holy temple was looted and plundered through 17 attacks on Jagannath Temple by Muslim invaders and foreigners. The idols were hidden at different places every time the temple was attacked.

In past, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court had dismissed a petition that sought a direction to the State not to permit non-Hindus to enter the temple premises.The court observed that Hindus visit Nagore dargah and Velankanni church. Songs rendered by K.J. Yesudas were played at the temples. Hence, it would not be possible for the authorities to individually check the religion of the people visiting the temple. A narrow view cannot be taken. It should be looked at from a broader perspective.Madras High Court had also reacted sharply last year to a petition seeking a complete ban on the entry of non-Hindus and foreigners to temples in Tamil Nadu.

The Supreme Court during July 2018 had asked Sri Jagannath Temple Administration to consider permitting every visitor irrespective of their religious faith to offer respects and make offerings to the deity subject to regulatory measures.

Odisha has established its identity as the seat of Lord Jagannath. His temple in Puri was in the news for negative incidents, when Ileana Citaristi, an accomplished Odissi dancer, Padmashri awardee and Jagannath devotee, was assaulted in the holy city.  In November 2005, princess Maha Cha­kri Sir­i­ndhorn of Thailand was denied entry in to the temple. Sant Kabir, Guru Nanak, Indira Gandhi, Zail Singh and Lord Curzon are among those kept out in the near and distant past. Orthodoxy reigns; and religion discrimination has been in practicefor centuries. Surprisingly, in Puri, the bases for such discrimination have been regulations set by the East India Company. It all began in 1803. Wellesley had launched an offensive that drove away the Peshwa rulers and conquered Odisha for the East India Company. The company entered Puri and took over the temple management, plagued then by widespread corruption. The priests, devadasis and all others in the service of Lord Jagannath began to receive salaries from the company. Thus, began an enigmatic honeymoon between a Hindu shrine and a British trading company. Thereafter company framed regulations,no doubt in consultation with the Brahmin orthodoxy, deciding who would not be permitted entry.

Although Lord Jagannath is the master of the universe, only orthodox Hindus are allowed entry inside the shrine.It is much like non-Muslims are not allowed to visit Mecca and central Medina. Non-Parsis are not allowed inside their Agiary or Fire Temple in Mumbai, Gujarat etc. But the Lord of the Universe is too kind. Once a year during the Rath Yatra, the deities step out and give darshan to people of all faiths, nationalities and castes.No other deity from any other Hindu temple ever steps out of the sanctum sanctorum of the temples they inhabit except the deities of Jagannath Temple at Puri.

In the year 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was refused entry on the grounds that technically, she was not a Hindu. No other member of the Gandhi family attempted to gain access inside the temple.Even though Rahul Gandhivisited Kedarnath in Uttarakhand and Kailash Parbat and Mansarovar Lake in Tibet; he never tried to visit Sri Jagannath Temple, expecting denial of access as he is not a Hindu either.In the year, 1988, Sonia Gandhi, was not allowed inside the Pashupati Nath temple in Nepal as well.

Lord Jagannath’s servitors include the potter community, who traditionally prepare the earthen pots for cooking the Mahaprasad. Also, Daitapatis, belong to tribal community. The servitors which include the people from Bishoi, Bhoi, Bimanabadu and Suara community are also not upper-class Brahmins. Not only are these so-called lower caste people allowed inside Jagannath Temple but they are also part of daily rituals inside the temple. Former Indian President Shri Ram Nath Kovindbelongs to Dalit and present President Mrs.DraupadiMurmu to tribal communities. All have visited Jagannath temple without any hassle.

As Buddhists had their origin in Hinduism, they are allowed to enter the Temple. But in the year 2005, the Queen of Thailand was denied entry in the temple, despite being a devout Buddhist because she was a foreigner Buddhist. Only Indian Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs are allowed inside the temple and not foreign. Guru Nanak, who was the founder of Sikhism and the much revered first Sikh Guru had visited Jagannath Temple, first in the year 1508 and later in 1510.

No foreigner is permitted to enter the Temple. In the year 2006, A Swiss citizen donated Rs.1.78 crore but was not allowed inside the temple because she was a Christian and foreigner. ISKCON members, which include foreigners, are rightly not allowed entry.

Every place of worship has its traditions and set of rules. India is a thickly populated country and the number of devotees is going on increasing in Srimandir. It is taking a very long time for Darshan of the Deities. If foreigners, who usually practice different life styles, are allowed entry inside the temples, the rush will be multiplied and will never help anyone. Besides, the Hindu devotees may be put to inconvenience and on the other hand will diminish the image of our country and our temple culture before the world. The purity and sanctity of the temples may be jeopardized. We have just recovered from the claws of Covid and learnt SMS – Sanitation, Mask and Social Distancing. Should we ignore the same and invite another virus caused pandemic? Better, to regulate and eliminate entry at all the places of worship through enactment of law influenced by science, tradition and religious scriptures; not with emotion.