Over 2,000 Jagannath temple servitors to receive Rs 5,000 each amid Covid-19 lockdown

With the 11th century Jagannath temple in Puri shutting down for over a month amid the coronavirus crisis, the temple administration on Friday decided to give Rs 5,000 to each of its 2100 servitors working in the temple.

Odisha had shut its most famous temple for pilgrims from March 20 to contain the spread of coronavirus disease. With no devotees visiting the temple, cash donations from devotees, the major source of earning for the priests there has stopped.

Jitendra Sahu, who is the administrator of rituals in the temple, said Rs 1.06 crore would be given to the 2,130 sevayat (priests or servitors) of the temple. The Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) will credit Rs 5,000 to the bank accounts of each servitor, Sahu said.

“This is a welcome step. I, on behalf of the servitors and the Temple Managing Committee, thank the chief administrator and the deputy chief administrator of the temple administration for this decision,” said Ramachandra Dasmohapatra, a servitor and member of the Temple Managing Committee.

Priests at other temples demand financial assistance

Priests of other temples in Odisha have also demanded assistance from the government. At Sakshigopal temple, a shrine of Lord Vishnu located 40 kilometres away from Jagannath temple, over 200 priests are having a tough time amid the lockdown. Every day thousands of people who came to Puri used to visit the 400-year-old temple until the lockdown was enforced amid the coronavirus pandemic last month.

“We are entirely dependent on the generosity of the pilgrims. We are somehow keeping up the rituals of the Lord. As Jagannath temple is cash-rich, they could give money to the priests. Who will look after us,” said Shaymsundar Mohapatra, a senior priest at the temple.

Similarly, hundreds of priests in Lingaraj temple in Bhubaneswar have also demanded financial assistance from the government.

“We thought we would earn something from the Rukuna Rathyatra last month. But we were disappointed after it was cancelled. How long will we go on like this,” asked Kamalakanta Badu, a priest of the temple.

Uncertainty over Rath Yatra looms

The financial assistance to the families of the temple priests has come at a time when there is a lot of uncertainty over the conduct of the annual Rath Yatra on June 23. The annual Chandan Jatra of Lord Jagannath scheduled on April 26 at Narendra Pokhari (pond) in Puri would be held without the participation of devotees in view of the lockdown. The slicing of the wooden logs for the car festival has already started and the construction of the three chariots is scheduled to start on April 26.

Though Puri is not in the list of Covid-19 hotspots of the country, there is still a lot of doubt if the annual car festival can be held this year.

“Whether Rath Yatra will be organised or not this year is under discussion. No decision has been taken so far in this regard. We will take a final call on it soon,” said state law minister Pratap Jena.

The lockdown had led to the cancellation of another famous car festival in Bhubaneswar, the Rukuna Rathayatra, on April 1.  For the first time in its history, the annual car festival of Lord Lingaraj in Bhubaneswar on the occasion of Ashokastami could not be held this year due to the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.

During the occasion, the idols of Lord Lingaraj along with Gopalini (Parvati), Kumara and Nandikesvara and an image of Govinda are taken out in a chariot from Lingaraj temple to Rameswaram temple.

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