Other States

Non-opening of temples makes priests financially desperate in Odisha

The unusual decision to sound gongs or ring bells in front of all temples across Odisha on Wednesday as a mark of protest against non-opening of temples may make the State government see red. But, by doing so, priests across the State would be venting their anguish.

Ask Bhabani Shankar Mishra (54), a priest at the Balunkeswar Temple at Dandamukundapur in Puri district, why he would sound gongs and ring bell which is not part of any worship.

“Since March 22, I have been confined to my home. The income has since dried up. Before COVID-19 struck, I used to earn from the donation of devotees. My family did not face any food shortage as the monthly income of around ₹10,000 was enough,” said Mr. Mishra.

During past eight months, the priest’s family had to borrow from their relatives as it had exhausted the little savings they had. His family members have resorted to making brooms and selling them in market.

In Mayurbhanj district, Kameswar Tripathy, who heads the Odisha Mandir Sevayat Sangh — a priests’ body — also works as a priest in the Shree Jagannath Temple at Baripada.

“The situation is worsening every passing day. I usually earn ₹50,000 during the rath yatra celebration. The lockdown snatched my major income of the year. The income supplements the meagre, yet critical regular income which is about ₹8,000 to ₹9,000 from temple,” said Mr. Tripathy.

August and September mark the beginning of the festival season in Odisha. Apart from the regular income from temples, the priests are invited to homes for personal pujas. With fear of COVID-19 reigning, devotees have postponed the rituals to next year.

“This is a big blow. Many priests, who live in towns in rented accommodation, have left for their villages where they have little land for taking up agriculture,” said the president of the priests’ body.

To assuage anger in Shree Jagannath Temples, Puri and the Lingaraj temple, Bhubaneswar, where a large number of priests are organised, the government has released some instalments of ₹5,000 in the past couple of months. However, no package has been announced for other priests in the State.

Urging the government to take immediate steps to open temples in accordance with the COVID-19 guidelines, Janardan Pattajoshi Mohapatra, head of the Chhatisa Nijog, a sevayats’ body in the Shree Jagannath Temple, Puri, said, “Priests are in acute financial crunch. Only opening of temples will solve the crisis. Once devotees start visiting temples, the economy around the religious institutions would get back to normalcy.”

On October 8, the State government initiated steps to open temples. “Districts Collectors were asked to consider the possibility of opening up places of worship for public of all religious faiths where compliance to guidelines is feasible and report to government. They may prefer graded opening to containing the disease,” Chief Secretary Asit Tripathy had tweeted.

Besides, the government had directed the temple administration of Shree Jagannath Temple, Puri and other major temples under the Endowments Commission to prepare a plan of action for opening temples for worshippers adhering to the COVID-19 regulations.

Though the Collectors were asked to submit reports after consultations with all stakeholders in 10 days, there has been no word on opening the temples. The delay now makes priests desperate.

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2020 3:37:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/non-opening-of-temples-makes-priests-financially-desperate-in-odisha/article32948256.ece

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