Dibya Singha Deb, the Raja of Puri,says he is enjoying his duties as the servant of the Lord
Gajapati Maharaja Dibya Singha Deb — most popularly known as the Raja of Puri says he is only performing the role of the Adhyasevak and respecting the writings of the Vedic traditions which says the first and foremost duty of a Raja is to uphold the dharma. The Maharaja of Puri is also the chairman of the managing committee of the temple that was constituted by the government under the Shri Jagannath Temple Act of 1955. Dibyasingha Deb assumed both these responsibilities in 1970 after the death of his father, Gajapati Maharaja Birkishore Deb.
In town for a family wedding, (Colonel Chatrapathi Singh Deo and Rani Rajlaxmi Singh Deo’s son) the Raja dressed in a traditional bandhgala and Jodhpuri says he is yet to get a better glimpse of the city. “I have been here several years back but again was a whirlwind tour. Wedding rituals usually do not leave anybody with the time and energy to engage in sight-seeing,” he says.
As Dibyasingha Deb, a ruler of the dynasty that is connected with the Kings of Orissa who founded the Shri Jagannath Temple at the start of the 12th century A.D. he is the one who has to first sweep an entrusted area of the rath for the famous rath yatra to begin. And without the Raja doing so, the rath doesn’t move. At the mention of his name and the rath yatra almost everyone has the same fable to tell—‘one particular year the king couldn’t make it on time and the rath didn’t move until the king came and did the traditional sweeping.’ Still handsome and dignified, the Raja is soft spoken and keeps interest in photography and reading and explains the duties as the Maharaja of Puri. “With Monarchy taken over by Democracy the kings are left with no power. There is no duty of kingship but only traditional duties in the temple which are in line with what was being done by the sovereign rulers of Orissa. As descendants of the rulers we are the heads of the state and the first servants of the Lord and that’s how we perform certain services before Lord Jagannath at the time of festivals. After the temple act was passed a management committee was formed to take care of the temple but as the King I remain the chairman and my work is connected with the management and administration of the Temple.”
Any regrets on not being able to enjoy the lives of monarchs? “Monarchy ended even before I was born. If anyone was hit by it, it was my parents. They had to reconcile to the changes. We went to public schools like everyone else did. That was the fate of most rulers and later they either entered politics, engaged in some business, or became landlord etc,” says the Raja.
Having led an ordinary life who studied in a convent, then at Raj Kumar College in Raipur DibyaSingha also did his history honours, then studied law at the Delhi University. “I also went on to do my LLM at Chicago’s North-Western University, practise in Delhi, in the high court and supreme court, for some years,” says the king.