Curb on Servitors' Dakshina Collection on Rath Yatra

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BY: SUN STAFF CORRESPONDENT - 11.7 2018

Armed with a recent Supreme Court directive, the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) in Puri on Monday imposed restriction on servitors on collection of dakshina or donation from devotees during July 14 Rath Yatra. The shrine body has decided to install temporary donation boxes (hundis) on chariots to encourage devotees to donate directly to the temple administration.

Hearing a petition, the apex court had on June 8 asked the temple administration to prevent exploitation and extortion by some servitors towards devotees. The court had asked the temple body to prevent servitors from collecting dakshina from pilgrims during normal days and on festive occasions.

Sources said though the ban on collection of dakshina is applied to all servitors, specific instructions have been given to members of Daitapati Nijog, a key association of priests, who play a vital role during Rath Yatra. "I held a meeting with a few members of Daitapati Nijog. No servitor will collect dakshina or offering from the Deities during the car festival. SJTA will put in place hundis on chariots," SJTA's Chief Administrator Pradipta Kumar Mohapatra said.

Temple sources said six hundis will be kept inside Gundicha Temple, where the Deities will spend at least seven days during Rath Yatra. The SJTA has asked Daitapati servitors not to take money from devotees to allow them to have close darshan of the Deities in Gundicha Temple's sanctum sanctorum. In previous years, the Daitapati servitors minted money by selling tickets to devotees to go inside Gundicha Temple's sanctum sanctorum during the annual festival.

"We will cooperate with the temple administration in implementing the Supreme Court's order. However, the administration should ensure that we get adequate compensation. The apex court's order clearly stated that the priests should be compensated if the administration collects donations directly from devotees," Daitapati Nijog's president Ramakrushna Dasmohapatra said.

Significantly, the SJTA has been paying hefty compensation to the Nijog after the state government banned the access of pilgrims onto chariots following an Orissa High Court directive in 2014. Prior to the ban order, the Daitapati servitors used to collect huge offerings from devotees by allowing them to climb on to the chariots and touch the Deities.

The temple administration said CCTV cameras that are installed every year around the chariots at Gundicha Temple will keep a watch on the servitors for proper implementation of the 2014 Orissa High Court order and last month's Supreme Court directive.

"We will implement the high court's order this year also. No devotee will be allowed to climb the chariots or touch the Deities. Only those servitors, having services to perform on chariots, will be allowed to go onto it," another temple officer said.