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Decoding politics: As Narendra Modi targets Naveen government, what is the case with missing keys to Jagannath temples, Ratna Bhandar? | News from the political pulse

Decoding politics: As Narendra Modi targets Naveen government, what is the case with missing keys to Jagannath temples, Ratna Bhandar?  |  News from the political pulse


AS THE BJP goes all out to improve its performance in Odisha, with repeated claims of winning enough seats to form government in the state, an issue that worries top party leaders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Union Home Minister Amit Shah to Assam Chief Minister Himanta. Biswa Sarma continues to talk about the security of the Ratna Bhandar (treasure) of the famous Puri Jagannath temple.

On Monday, Modi raised the issue at a public event in Puri. In a indirect inquiry to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's close aide and BJD's top election strategist VK Pandian, a native of Tamil Nadu, Modi claimed that people were saying that the keys to the Ratna Bhandar had been sent to the state from South.

What is Ratna Bhandar?

The precious ornaments of sister deities Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra, gifted by devotees and ancient kings over the centuries, are kept in the 12th century Ratna Bhandar of the shrine. It is located inside the temple and has two chambers Bhitar Bhandar (inner chamber) and Bahara Bhandar (outer chamber).

The outer chamber is opened regularly to collect ornaments for the deities during Suna Besha (golden attire), a key ritual of the annual Rath Yatra, as well as during major festivals of the year. The inner chamber has not been opened for the past 38 years.

When was the last time Ratna Bhandar opened?

According to official sources, the last inventory of the Ratna Bhandar was carried out between May 13 and July 23, 1978. Although it was reopened on July 14, 1985, the inventory has not been updated.

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According to a reply by former law minister Pratap Jena in the Assembly in April 2018, in 1978, the Ratna Bhandar had 12,831 bhari (one bhari is 11.66 gm) of gold ornaments adorned with stones precious and 22,153 bhari of silver utensils, among other precious objects. items. There were other ornaments that could not be weighed during the inventory process.

Following a direction from the Orissa High Court, the state government attempted to open the room for physical inspection on April 4, 2018. This attempt failed as the room keys could not be found. The ASI team therefore carried out the inspection from the outside.

What was the controversy that followed?

When it emerged at a temple committee meeting on April 5, 2018 that there was no information regarding the keys to the Ratna Bhandar, a state-wide scandal ensued. The Puri Collector is the official keeper of the key to the inner treasure.

Following the outcry, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik ordered a judicial inquiry into the matter on June 4, 2018. Days after ordering the inquiry, the then Collector Puri said that an envelope with a duplicate of the keys of inner Ratna Bhandar written on them had been found. in the archives room of the Collectorate.

Although the inquiry committee submitted a 324-page report to the Odisha government on November 29, 2018 on the issue, the details of the findings are yet to be made public.

Amid lingering anger over the issue, the Jagannath Temple Management Committee in August last year recommended to the state government that the Ratna Bhandar be opened during the 2024 annual Rath Yatra.

What did the BJP allege and what was the ruling BJD's response?

In July last year, former BJP president Samir Mohanty filed a petition in the Orissa High Court over the issue. In its verdict in September, the court ordered the government to form a high-level committee to oversee the inventory of valuables.

The Odisha government in March constituted a 12-member committee headed by retired Supreme Court judge Justice Arijit Pasayat to oversee the inventory of Ratna Bhandar.

Addressing several rallies on May 11, Modi raised the issue of Ratna Bhandar's missing keys and accused the BJD government of running away from the issue.

On the Patnaik government's claim that it had found a set of duplicate keys of the Ratna Bhandar, Modi questioned why the duplicate keys were made and whether anyone was opening the Ratna Bhandar with the duplicate key for the night. He asked if the precious jewels of the deities were stolen using these duplicate keys and claimed that the problem was serious.

While Modi promised that if the BJP forms the government in Odisha, it would restore the sanctity of Ratna Bhandar, Amit Shah said the investigation report on Ratna Bhandar would be made public within six days of coming to power of the party in the state. He also promised to make the full inventory of ornaments public.

Why might there be political ramifications to this problem?

Lord Jagannath is the most revered deity in Odisha, a state where Hindus make up almost 90% of the population. The people of the state are emotionally connected with the Jagannath culture. There is anger among a section of the population, including among the servants of the Puri shrine, over the missing keys and concerns over the safety of the lords' ornaments.

The servants also demanded early opening of the Ratna Bhandar and an inventory of jewelry. Puri's royal descendant Dibyasingha Deb also called for the opening of the Ratna Bhandar.




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