23 June, 2021

The Foreign Hand In Puri

A little-known fact: the temple courted the East India Company

Sanjib Mukherjee
The Foreign Hand In Puri

The Jagannath temple in Puri was recently in the news when Ileana Citaristi, an accomplished Odissi dancer, Padmashri awardee and Jagannath devotee, was assaulted by some priests who were extorting dakshina. The temple priests have for long heaped indignities on dars­han-seekers. In November 2005, princess Maha Cha­­kri Sir­­i­ndhorn of Thailand was denied entry. Sant Kabir, Guru Nanak, Indira Gandhi, Zail Singh and Curzon are among those kept out in the near and distant past. Orthodoxy reigns, and caste discrimination has been in practice, like in many other temples, for centuries. Surprisingly, in Puri, the bases for such discrimination have been regulations set by the East India Company. And how did this come to pass? Strange but true, the temple courted the firangs.

It all began in 1803. Wellesley had launched an offensive that drove away the Peshwa rulers and conquered Orissa for the East India Company. Lt Col Campbell, who led the campaign and was camping at Pipli, three or four miles from Puri, must have been surprised to find a delegation...

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