Uncertainty over Re-opening of Temples Hurting Odisha Priests, Servitors

The closure of temples and other sites of religious importance in Odisha is adversely affecting a countless number of priests involved with such institutions. Their earnings from the conduct of pujas have dried up, and most of them have been forced to resort to alternative trades to supplement their income for basic sustenance.

Priests across the state have decided to sound gongs and ring bells in front of all major temples on Wednesday in protest against the government’s no-go for re-opening of temples. In other states, the state governments have temporarily allowed the opening of temples with certain riders. However, much to the dejection of the servitors, the Naveen Patnaik-led government has not budged an inch from their stance of delaying the reopening of religious institutions.

In Odisha, the months of August and September herald several important religious occasions. The most widely known of these include the Rath Yatra in Puri, the Rukuna Yatra and the Durga Puja celebrations. However, with the COVID panic still prevalent amongst people, most have deferred public celebrations and shunned visits to the temples. Consequently, the priests, who earn from the Dakshina offered by the devotees, have had almost nothing to contend with.

To assuage the sentiments of the servitors in the Shree Jagannath Temple in Puri and the Lingaraj Temple in Bhubaneswar, the Odisha government has released installments of Rs 5000 for each of the priests. However, no such announcement or benefit has been extended for priests in other temples yet.