In a break from tradition, Puri Shankaracharya Swami Nicshalananda Saraswati did not turn up to offer prayers to the deities on their chariots during the rath yatra today. Back channel negotiations to persuade the seer failed as he stuck to his decision of not taking part in the yatra, the first such instance, sources said. The seer was miffed at the Jagannath temple administration’s request to him to climb the chariots alone. The seer apparently wanted his followers to accompany him while offering prayers on the chariots.
The tussle began around 3pm yesterday when the temple administration communicated to him that he could visit the chariots with three of his followers. But two hours later, it dispatched another letter to him requesting him to come alone in keeping with a recent Orissa High Court verdict that had actually upheld the opinion of the Shankaracharya that none except those associated with the rituals of the deities should be allowed to climb the chariots.
The seer, however, took the letter as a personal affront and declared that he won’t take part in the yatra as he was being humiliated. “I will not go to participate in the car festival. The government has humiliated me. Some people have used objectionable words against me. The state government has no guts to take any action against me. If it takes any action, it would face the consequences from tomorrow,” the seer told reporters here.
Commenting on the issue, Jagannath culture expert and commentator Rajat Kar said: “Irrespective of claims, it is unclear if Shankaracharyas played any role in the rath yatra. At the time Adi Shankaracharya is believed to have visited Puri, the tradition of chariot festival may not have begun. Today, we have so many persons claiming to be Shankaracharyas. But neither their actions nor ideas can be compared with that of Adi Shankaracharya, who had tried to merge Buddhism with the Hindu culture.
In Puri, he demonstrated that Jagannath, Subhadra and Balabhadra were Buddha, Dharma and Sangha of the Buddhist philosophy. This united the followers of Buddha and Lord Jagannath.”
While temple chief administrator Arvind Padhee refused to comment on the seer’s decision to skip the yatra, the chief daitapati of Lord Jagannath, Jagannath Swain Mohapatra said: “Had he turned up we would have welcomed him. However, the yatra cannot be stopped because of an individual. In fact, Shankaracharya has no formal rituals to perform on the chariots. In the past, Shankaracharyas never climbed the chariots. The tradition started only a few years ago when one of our servitors took him atop the chariots.”
While Shankarcharya kept away, the scion of the Puri royal family Gajapati Dibyasingha Deb came to sweep the chariot decks with a handful of supporters. In tune with the court’s order, he climbed the chariots alone to perform the customary ritual.
Though the Shankaracharya announced his decision not to take part in the yatra yesterday, there was no official attempt to placate him.
However, this morning, Union ministers Jual Oram and Dharmendra Pradhan rushed to his ashram at Govardhan Peetha and tried to soothe his ruffled feelings. But he refused to change his mind.
Officials, however, had hoped till the last moment that the seer would relent and visit the chariots. When he did not turn up finally, there was, for a brief while, palpable tension near the chariots and murmuring among the sevayats.
Law minister Arun Sahu said: “We have all respect for the Shankaracharya. But the decision not to come is his. We have nothing to say on that. However, the high court order must be followed.”