The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has sought permission to inspect the inner chamber of the Ratna Bhandar (treasury) of the Shree Jagannath Temple in Puri by a technical expert committee for the safety and upkeep of the ancient monument.
In an affidavit before Orissa High Court, the ASI’s Puri Circle said it could assess the quantum of conservation work or repair only after the Ratna Bhandar was inspected.
The affidavit says the ASI had not received permission from the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) for the inspection of the Ratna Bhandar by the technical expert committee from inside to assess whether it required maintenance or repairs, as directed by the Orissa HC in its order on March 22 and March 29, 2018.
In 2022, the ASI had sent the Chief Administrator of the SJTA to make the necessary arrangements and issue the permission in light of the technical expert committee’s observation on such an assessment.
“Ratna Bhander can be taken up after inspection of the interior. The committee may be allowed to enter inside and inspect the Ratna Bhandar interior structural and archaeological details of Ratna Bhandar under proper lighting system,” the ASI said.
According to the technical expert committee’s report, the inspection found that the Ratna Bhandar stood over the pista (raised platform) around the main temple. The data on its construction or inner dimensions was not available. However, it appeared to have been built around the 13th and 14th century AD, and was integrally built along with the northern fascia of the ‘Jagamohan wall’.
“It is a bland structure, with white washing in the surface. However, the plaster seems to have become weak at some places, as noticed from the hollow sound upon tapping the surface,” the ASI said.
The ASI’s committee could examine only the exterior, and the committee submitted that the final decision on the structuration of the Ratna Bhandar could be taken up after the inspection of the interior.
The Shree Jagannath Temple Management Committee, the apex governing body of the temple, had decided to recommend allowing the ASI to inspect the Ratna Bhandar during the 2024 Rath Yatra.
The Naveen Patnaik government is under tremendous pressure to open the Ratna Bhandar, which is believed to contain precious jewellery and stones. About 1.2 quintal of gold jewellery is stocked in the Ratna Bhandar.
The previous inventory of the jewellery in the Ratna Bhandar was carried out in 1978.