The Lord’s blessings in Puri – historic & unprecedented – Charudatta Panigrahi – October 2019

The blackmail has been blunted. This is no mindless endorsement of the demolition drive around Jagannath temple in Puri. The pulling down of dilapidated structures overcrowding the precincts of the Lord of the Cosmos is a rare bold step, taken after centuries of ‘slumming’. The mathas around the Puri temple need to be razed because the Jagannath temple needs more fortification and tidying which is overdue. Some 5-6 centuries ago these mathas ( also the other mathas in general) were intended to impart Sanskrit lessons to young scholars, visiting scholars, offer boarding facilities for pilgrims and offer specialised services to the rituals of Jagannath temple. Many of these mathas had good libraries at some point in time. I have visited many but now the scholastic relevance of the mathas is completely absent and desiccated.

In early days the mathas in Puri were built and supported by ‘Lines of Following” and so Ramanuja Acharya, a seer of Shaivanism set up Emar mutt or Ramananda founded the Bada Akhada matha with the purpose of preparing servitors with physical training to guard the temple and its sanctity. The seers or religious leaders who established mathas did so with the help of the rulers and rich patrons. The land and the donations that these mathas received belong to the people. The mathas originally meant to be learning and spiritual centres have become centres of conflicts – litigations on Mahanta succession, ugly tussles over property ownership (they own huge tracts of land) and uncountable hording of gold, precious stones and riches. Mathas are of the seers, by the seers and for the learners. Where is the play of slabs of gold in this? Is this why the mathas should squat over swathes of land both near the temple and in farmlands in villages? The Puri Gazetter describes thus, the "Mathas are monastic houses originally founded with the object of giving religious instructions to chelas or disciples and generally of encouraging a religious life." Sreemandir is perhaps the only temple on planet earth which propounds the tenet that ‘all humans are one'. The oneness is seen in practice, not only in rhetoric. The patrons including feudal lords, kings, traders from all over had put up 752 mathas to accommodate pilgrims from all over the world and provide food & comfort without commercial purposes. This is also believed to be the inspiration behind the ‘Langar' service of the Gurudwara culture. Guru Nanak had established Bauli matha in Puri which is in ruins now, almost.

To put it straight, mathas are irrelevant today and could not meet the high purposes they were meant for. How many of you or the ones who are shouting for the preservation of the mathas have ever been inside a matha in Puri? They are inhabitable. They provide inhuman quarters (dormitories) to pilgrims (who choose to stay there now) and even to the poor and hapless widows during Kartika brata.

The mathas were revered once upon a time as the gateway or the stop overs to the ultimate unison with Lord Jagannath. But they have lost all significance because they could not retain their coveted position of postulating adwait doctrine. How many below 35 would even know what a matha is? How would they know when we do not know anything about mathas nor the mathas have ever chosen to be in the mainstream? When it comes to street fights, we remember ‘preserving culture and legacy of Puri’.

How many civil society organisations have ever taken up the cause of mathas (if there was any cause) and have helped restore them?

When were you in a matha, last?

Shreekshetra is one of the seven most holy places for Hindus in the globe and is one in the four Dhams (Char Dham) considered to be the highest zones for Hindu faith. Cleaning of the Dham will set an example for the rest of the world to preserve such old temples of faith, which steer humanity.

The Garuda Purana says,

 Ayodhyā Mathurā Māyā Kāsi Kāñchī Avantikā I Purī Dvārāvatī chaiva saptaitā moksadāyikāh II       (the seven holy places of Hindu faith)

The religious mathas are always seen as rigid institutions that preserve old traditions and not as ones that are in sync with the changing times or norms. They have never been able to transform into institutions that can connect with society while changing with times. They could not evolve because of their limited capabilities and intellectual proclivities. A matha today is nothing more than a building because they are bereft of the divine spirit. If it is a decrepit building, then why should it stand between me and my Lord?

I support the state’s incredible and unparallel decisiveness in cleaning the muck around our Lord’s abode. In many old cities with similar situations around the world, I have noticed that the administrations have not been bold enough to bulldoze encroaching structures. What Odisha has done today in Puri, the rest of the country would follow. In complete solidarity with the plucky and progressive move of the State.

The abode of the Lord of the Cosmos has to be the brightest, strongest and the nattiest. Because that is the least, we mortals (and Odias) can offer as our reverence and prayer. Keep our highest pedestal clean, safe and long lasting.

On one hand I can’t pillory the sanitation and infrastructure of Puri and on the other turn activist overnight for the mathas.

We cannot neglect our Lord for decadent mathas. No way.

Hats off Odisha !

Charudatta Panigrahi

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