Only the Shankaracharya of Puri Govardhan Peeth, Gajapati King of Puri and ‘Palia Sevayats’, who have to perform designated duties on raths, can climb the chariots of Lord Jagnnath during the annual Rath Yatra, Puri Shankaracharya Nischalananda Saraswati said.
“Nobody else should climb the chariots or touch the deities during the annual festival,” the Shankaracharya told reporters in Puri adding, that he had held wide consultations with Hindu religious scholars and legal experts on the issue.
The seer suggested that sevayats who would face monetary loss due to the restriction could be financially compensated.
Shortly afterwards the temple management committee headed by Gajapati King Dibyasingh Deb approved it and constituted a five-member sub-committee for its implementation.
A section of the sevayats has vowed to oppose the regulation “tooth and nail”. Some sevayats are known to take between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000 from visitors from abroad to be allowed to board the chariots and touch the deities.
Govardhan Peeth is one of the four monasteries founded by Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th Century. Shankaracharya of Puri is the final authority to solve any ritual related disputes at the 12th century Jagannath Temple.
Controversy over the issue of climbing on Lord Jagannath’s chariot during the Ratha Yatra thickened this year after Italy-born famous Oddisi dance exponent Ileana Citaristi was beaten up by servitors on the chariot.
Dinanath Pathy, an art historian and painter, said he was disappointed. “Jagannath is a tribal deity. Why is he being confined to Hinduism? Besides, with a little common sense, the administration could have sorted it out. If they issue tickets for darshan on the chariots, the rush will automatically come down.”
Aruna Mohanty, renowned Odissi dancer, said touching the Lord was a divine experience. “It indeed is a special experience but then maybe authorities are not entirely wrong in taking this decision as there have been controversies in the past,” she said.