Italy-born Ileana Citaristi, a Padma Shri awardee and an Odissi dance exponent, was allegedly ill-treated by two servitors on the chariot of Lord Jagannath in Puri on Sunday morning.

Ms. Citaristi said they shoved her and knocked her on the head when she refused to pay the bribe they demanded. The dancer has been residing in Odisha since 1979.

“It is the most unsavoury experience I have ever had,” Ms. Citaristi said. “Every year deities come out of their abode to give darshan to all, especially those who cannot go inside the temple in normal times. I climbed the chariot to pay my obeisance in the morning. When I was atop the chariot, two servitors demanded Rs. 1000. But I refused.”

“Annoyed at my refusal, two servitors pushed me, knocked me on the head and tried to make an issue of my foreign origin.”

Ms. Citaristi lodged a complaint with the Jagannath Temple Administration (JTA) which oversees the affairs of the Shree Jagannath Temple, Puri. She also faxed her complaint to the Puri Superintendent of Police.

“I have already condemned the incident,” said Arabind Padhee, Chief Administrator of JTA. “An inquiry has already been ordered. If they had any problem about her foreign origin, they could have simply stopped her from going up. No servitor has the right to misbehave with anyone on the chariot.”

It is to be noted that the Shankaracharya of Puri has not clarified who are eligible to climb the chariots carrying the deities. Priests of the Shri Jagannath Temple have been vehemently opposing the entry of foreign nationals and non-Hindus into the 12th century shrine. However, during the Car Festival, devotees irrespective of their caste, creed and religion are allowed to come to the chariots and pay their obeisance.