Puri Jagannath temple to get a major facelift as CM Patnaik inaugurates heritage corridor project

The Parikrama Prakalpa was a dream project of the BJD government

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik walking down the corridor with King of Puri Gajpati Dibyasingha Deb and V.K. Pandian Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik walking down the corridor with King of Puri Gajpati Dibyasingha Deb and V.K. Pandian

Amidst chanting of religious hymns by Vedic Brahmins and ‘Haribol, Jai Jagannath’ chants by devotees, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Wednesday inaugurated the Shree Mandira Parikrama Prakalpa (the heritage corridor project) of Sri Jagannath temple at Puri around 1.35 pm.

The inauguration ceremony has a larger significance from religious as well as political point view as it comes days ahead of the consecration of Ram temple at Ayodhya on January 22. Also, the general elections and Odisha assembly elections are a few months away.

The Parikrama Prakalpa, a beautiful infrastructure project matching with modern times, will facilitate the visit of increasing number of devotees to the temple. Today’s ceremony was preceded by long rituals. It was a special occasion for King of Puri Gajpati Dibyasingha Deb, considered the first servitor of Lord Jagannath, as many of his ancestors had never witnessed such an event.

Several ‘sankeertan’ troupes went around the Parikrama playing cymbals and mrudangas and reciting religious prayers. At the same time, Gajpati Dibyasingha Deb was accorded purna ahuti at the yajna which has been going on for three days to consecrate the place.

With the inauguration of Parikrama Prakapla, one of the dream projects of the chief minister has been realized. It would be perhaps the first time since independence that the Puri temple and its surroundings have got a massive face-lift, though the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has been maintaining the inner structures since 1974.

As part of the project, a one kilometre road named as ‘Sri Marg’ which runs parallel to Badadanda (Grand Road) has been built from Jagannathballav multilevel parking area to Simhadwar (Lion’s Gate) to minimise crowd density at Badadanda.

Patnaik has been active in Odisha politics since 1997 following his father’s death and his chief ministership will complete continuous 24 years on March 5. It’s natural for a successful politician like him to touch all aspects of the state’s affairs.

Patnaik observed that the centuries old major religious shrines in the state were lacking basic facilities like motorable roads, sanitation, shelters, toilets, drinking water even though the visitors’ number has considerably increased. In his fifth term as the chief minister, Patnaik conceptualized the development of such religious places with special focus on Sri Jagannath temple as inflow of devotees to Puri has increased manifold and the entire Odishan culture centres around the Jagannath cult because Lord Jagannath is reigning deity of Odisha.

According to temple sources, while the daily attendance of devotees on normal days in 1990s was within 30,000, it has now increased to more than one lakh. On festival occasions like annual Rath Yatra and other such important events lakhs of people visit the temple on a single day.

Patnaik and his Biju Janata Dal (BJD) have always maintained their secular identity. Their alliance with BJP had broken before 2009 election because of the alleged involvement of the Sangh Parivar in Kandhamal district communal riots. Patnaik’s government has also generously helped the minorities in the state. The government regularly gives funds to shrines of different communities for their upkeep.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and King of Puri Gajpati Dibyasingha Deb during the inauguration of Shree Mandira Parikrama Prakalpa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and King of Puri Gajpati Dibyasingha Deb during the inauguration of Shree Mandira Parikrama Prakalpa

On May 3, 2019, Puri town was ravaged by cyclone Fani which was the worst tropical storm to strike Odisha since 1999 super cyclone. Fani caused considerable damage to the temple city. Chief Minister Patnaik during his visit to Puri after the cyclone was shocked to see the devastation of the town and resolved to develop the town as an international heritage centre. A massive plan for its redevelopment was prepared by October 2019. After the approval of DPR, the chief minister laid the foundation stone on November 24, 2021 for the development of a heritage corridor around the Jagannath temple. Properties of individuals and 20 mutts located within 75 metres from the temple boundary were acquired for the project. All the narrow lanes surrounding the temple were widened.

At the annual Rath Yatra festival of Sri Jagannath temple, three huge wooden chariots are pulled by thousands of pilgrims on a 2.85 km stretch of the ‘Badadanda’ or grand road. However, except this road, all other lanes surrounding the area were quite narrow like any old city of India.

The heritage corridor project aims to create more space for devotees with basic amenities and facilities. Special provisions have been made for differently-abled devotees and senior citizens. The initial cost of the project was pegged at Rs 800 crores which was later revised to Rs 943 crores. The required land has been acquired by the administration from individuals and religious institutions through negotiations. It is surprising to note that not a single voice of dissent was reported while the land acquisition was made. An amount of Rs 430 crore was paid to property owners towards compensation and resettlement. The project was delayed by two years because of nationwide shut down during Covid-19 pandemic and the delay in obtaining clearance from National Monuments Authority(NMA) and Archaeological Survey Of India(ASI). The administration in adherence to the Supreme Court ruling, introduced a queue system for entry into temple. A huge air-conditioned shed was also set up along the queue for the devotees to take rest at the time when the darshan was closed for observance of rituals.

The countdown for the inauguration of the dream project began on January 12,2024. Gajpati Dibyasingh Deb, the ceremonial head of the temple servitors as per tradition, entrusted 108 Sotriya Brahmins by handing them over the holy betelnut to perform a three days long yajna to consecrate the Parikrama. The yajna was concluded on January 17 after Gajpati offered purna ahuti and the chief minister formally dedicated the Parikrama to the devotees.

Later, after going round the Parikrama, the chief minister felicitated the workers of the project. He had earlier praised the temple servitors and other persons who cooperated for the execution of the project by sacrificing their properties and even their houses. Patnaik also inaugurated Sri Setu (trumpet bridge) which was built as a bypass to the main road. From the Jagannath Ballav multilevel parking lot, devotees can proceed to Simhadwar through Sri Marg on battery operated vehicles. A huge pilgrim shelter with modern amenities will be constructed close to the corridor to house about five thousand devotees. The project has got clearance from NMA and ASI.

The Raghunandan library, one of the oldest in the state located in front of the temple, had been demolished for the project. It will be constructed anew with digital facilities. About 20 mutts located within the Parikrama have been nicely renovated. The Parikrama has a green corridor close to the temple walls while a pathway for devotees has also been made. A number of small platforms have been raised at the four gates of the temple for the pundits to recite hymns on festival occasions. To facilitate hassle free movement of pilgrims inside the town, two major roads—from Simhadwar to Swargadwar (heritage cremation ground on sea beach known as door to heaven) and Simhadwar to Mochisahi—are being widened to double lanes.

A large number of devotees thronged Puri to witness the rare ceremony. In response to an appeal by the chief minister, the devotees had offered arpan (white rice and betel nut) to the visiting Samarpan Rath whichtravelled through every village from January 12-17.

The state government had declared January 17 a holiday. Patnaik in an open letter to the devotees on Monday had requested them to observe Parikrama inauguration with joy and devotion. He said, “Lord Jagannath is the nerve centre of Odia identity and deeply associated with our history, tradition and culture. The deity is a symbol of religious harmony. A leaf cannot move without his will. By Lord Jagannath’s will, Shree Mandira Parikrama Prakalpa is being dedicated to devotees”.

Quoting Puri King Gajpati Dibyasinha Deb, the chief minister said this kind of transformation around Jagannath temple was not done in the last 700 years. Patnaik appealed to people to celebrate the event by expressing devotion through lighting a lamp, blowing conches, worshiping, singing sacred hymns and chanting Jai Jagannath. The chief minister also requested all Jagannath devotees in the country and abroad to celebrate the opening of the heritage corridor project with devotion.

The chief minister had announced a comprehensive plan for the development of Puri, the district headquarters town, better known as the abode of Lord Jagannath, at an estimated cost of around Rs 4,000 crores. About 80 per cent of the plan have been completed and some are waiting for formal inauguration. These include two mega multilevel parking lots for 1,000 four-wheelers and an equal number of three and two-wheelers; three huge market complexes and a Jagannath Stadium.

Swargadwar, the religiously important cremation ground, has been developed to international standard. The condition of the nearby beach has also improved and it has got the international blue flag tag. Earlier, Puri had figured as the seventh town in the world to have implemented ‘drink from tap mission’ successfully.

Another dream project of the chief minister is to have an international airport for Puri though Bhubaneswar international airport is 60 km away. The work on Puri airport is making steady progress. The construction work began six months ago after obtaining clearance from the union civil aviation ministry. This proposed international airport will be connected with the Biju Patnaik international airport at Bhubaneswar by a specially dedicated road without any link roads or intersections to minimize journey time to 50 minutes.

The state government has also allocated fund for the development of Konark Sun Temple along with that small town, plus its beach at Chandrabhaga. Konark is linked by a marine drive from Puri and the distance between the two places is 35 km. Chilika lake, the largest brackish water lagoon with an area 1,165 sqkm, is also 50 km away from Puri. Irrawaddy dophins are the major tourist attraction at Chilika which has also become a winter stay place of Siberian birds.

The government’s temple development push would also cover other major shrines in the state including Taratarini temple of Purushottampur in Ganjam, the chief minister’s home district where a rope-way and other facilities would be set up. Though it is said in the political circles that the BJD’s move is to counter the BJP’s temple agenda, the tourism potential behind these moves is widely agreed upon.

According to BJD general secretary (organization) Pranab Prakas Das, the plan is to increase tourist flow in a big way and increase tourism income manifold through Puri project and other such interventions. The institutions and agencies connected with hospitality industry are upbeat as the increased inflow of devotees has augmented their earnings. All the stakeholders of the industry—from auto, taxi owners, travel and tour operators to hotels and restaurants owners—are happy, said R.K. Patra, a senior member of the Hotel Association of Puri. The industry is hopeful that the flow will continue round the year with the Patnaik government’s affirmative action.

V.K. Pandian, a 2000 batch Odisha cadre IAS officer from Tamil Nadu who worked in the Chief Minister’s office as Secretary- 5 T and recently took VRS and joined BJD and became Chairman-5 T of the government, would make frequent visits to Puri to oversee Parikrama Prakalpa, besides overseeing other temple projects. It indicates CM Patnaik’s earnestness in these projects.

However, both the BJP and the Congress, the main opposition parties of state, alleged that the Parikrama Prakalpa was made a BJD event.

BJP president Manmohan Samal said: “The BJD leaders should understand that Lord Jagannath belongs to everyone. It is for people to decide whether to attend a party event”.

Bijoy Patnaik, a 1976 batch IAS officer who was the principal secretary to Chief Minister Patnaik, has joined Congress after his retirement as the chief secretary. He is now the chairman of the Congress campaign committee in the state. Bijoy said: “The current dispensation does not understand the essence of Puri temple and has been using it as another tourist spot. First they used a YouTuber who in the past had promoted beef, to promote mahaprasad (food offered to deity in Puri temple). Now, idols of the Lord are being placed in trucks and moved from door to door to collect donations, lowering His dignity”.

Countering the opposition parties, senior BJD MLA Amar Satpathy said: “After a long time such an intervention has been carried out to improve amenities around the Jagannath temple. Historians will find it among the biggest such interventions and future generations, too, will remember this.”

Puri is one of the four Dhams of India from Hinduistic point of view. The inauguration of the Parikrama Prakalpa will be part of the nation’s 2024 religious calendar along with the consecration of new Ram temple at Ayodhya. The Shankaracharya of Puri Swami Sri Nischalananda Saraswati, though formally invited by authorities, did not attend the programme. Of course he is out of town and has not made any adverse comment as it has happened in the case of Ram temple.

Nepal’s Hindu royal family has traditional link with Puri temple. Its head King Gyanendra had been invited for the programme. But he has not attended.

Politically, BJD and BJP are known for their sympathy for each other though they are rivals. BJP’s Puri MLA Jayanta Sarangi attended the event. So,in actual sense there should be no temple animosity.


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