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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2647

Jagannath temple no entry

By Tukoji R. Pandit - Syndicate Features

The Hindu religion is regarded as all-pervasive, tolerant and flexible. It is described as a way of life, not a religion in the narrow sense of the term. It does not have any problem of co-existence with other religions. But questions about such claims are raised whenever minorities are harassed; and also when a temple that draws thousands of devotees slams its doors on some on narrow, archaic grounds.

The most recent example is the incident at the Jagannath temple in Puri, when Paul Roediger, an American and apparently a Christian, was thrown out and slapped a fine for entering the sacred place. This famous temple seems to be particularly hostile to the Americans as a little over a year ago it had thrown out another American, a white Christian woman, who had converted to Hinduism after marrying a Yadav from the holy city of Varanasi. Is it an instance of ‘racism’?

The practising Hindu Indians in the US are generally said to be more orthodox than their kith and kin back home. But the ejection of Paul Roediger from the Jagannath temple did not seem to go down well with them. The Hindu American Foundation condemned the Jagannath incident.

There was an outcry within this country at the treatment meted out to the American. Perhaps, the whole incident would not have attracted the kind of notice it did if, in the first place, the visiting American was quietly told to leave, and the priests had not followed it up by ordering the abominable destruction of food.

The priests at Jagannath think a ‘white’ Christian cannot be converted to Hinduism. (They will never know if, say, a ‘brown’ Christian or a Muslim sneaks into the temple.) But temple priests in Orissa have a thing against foreigners, even if they happen to be VIPs, and they have a very different way of judging even one born a Hindu.

Indira Gandhi was stopped from stepping inside a temple because she had married a Parsi. At the Lingaraj temple at Bhubaneswar, a Thai princess was barred from entering in 2005 because she was a Buddhist.

Paul Roediger is said to be a 55-year-old white New Yorker. He is temporarily working at a National Thermal Power Corporation project in Orissa. He could not have expected anything better than an unceremonious ejection from the sacred premises.

Paul Roediger said in his defence that he was not aware that non-Hindus were not allowed to enter the temple though there is a notice at the temple door that says so. Some reports said that his entry was facilitated with the connivance of the temple staff. If it is true, it will appear that the temple priests are more tolerant of the erring staff but less tolerant of non-believing devotees.

The Jagannath temple priests should give up their rigid if not dated ways for the sake of their temple. Many temples in India, some of them as famous and revered as the Jagannath temple, are opening their doors to those who were denied entry in the past.

Interestingly, the world’s first ISO certified temple is located in Muslim-dominated Malaysia. The award was given in recognition of its religious, cultural and social services to the community. The 117 years old temple, known as ‘the Tirupati of South East Asia’, does not discriminate on the basis of caste or ethnic and linguistic affiliations of those who throng its doors.

Paul was no threat to the Puri temple. He was not armed. He had not come with bombs strapped under his vest. He was not a member of any fanatical Christian group. He had come to the temple as a devotee and not as an 18th century proselytising missionary. His purpose of visiting the temple was peaceful and pious, to bow before the deity and offer prayers, something that should have pleased those who believe that Hinduism has a universal appeal.

The Hindus’ claim to universal appeal will look questionable if a house of God denies a person his or her right to worship. Hindus are taught that God loves and blesses all equally. This is an argument that strengthens the fight against social discriminations found within the fold of Hinduism.

Some exclusiveness in religious and cultural practices and rituals is fine; maybe even necessary for distinguishing one from the other. Obviously, all religions cannot have identical rituals or else their monotony will drive away more and more adherents from the fold of the practicing fraternity. But a person belonging to one religion visiting the shrine of another religion even out of curiosity commits no crime and causes no insult to either religion.

There is no Hindu temple or shrine of other religions which are not visited by criminals, crooks and anti-social elements who come to seek blessings of their religious gods to further their trade. Many a Hindu politician seeking self-aggrandisement makes a great show of his or her visit to a temple. Their mind is not cluttered with piety or veneration. Yet they are not thrown out because they are born Hindus and, in the case of women, not married to non-Hindus.

Ok. This is perhaps an extreme view. But how can one reconcile to the fact that the Jagannath priests, enraged by the entry of the non-believer that they thought had defiled the temple premises, ordered that all the food cooked there and the offerings made by the devotees should be buried in a pit? It has been reported that food worth about one lakh rupees was thus destroyed.

What a criminal waste in a state which is one of the poorest in India and where starvation deaths are not rare. How does such a thing fit with the image of a country that is called an ‘IT superpower’ and an emerging economic great power? And we live in the 21st century!

- Syndicate Features -

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