Priests ban foreigners from climbing Puri chariots

Last Updated: Fri, Jul 26, 2013 05:42 hrs

Bhubaneswar: The priests of Odisha's Jagannath temple in Puri said they would ban foreigners from climbing the chariots of the deities during the annual Ratha Yatra (chariot festival) from next year.

"No foreigners would be allowed to climb the chariots from next year onwards," chief priest of Jagannath temple Swain Das Mohapatra told reporters at Puri, about 55 km from Bhubaneswar.

The announcement came four days after an Italian-born Odissi dancer Ileana Citaristi alleged that she was beaten up on a chariot for allegedly refusing to pay Rs.1,000 to a priest.

Mr Mohapatra said the chariot festival rituals this year passed off without any trouble, but the incident related to the Italian-born Odissi dancer was hyped out of proportion.

Foreigners are not allowed inside the 12th century Jagannath temple, nor are they allowed to climb up the chariots which carry the idols of Lord Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra during the famed Ratha Yatra.

Last year, an American tourist was allegedly beaten up by policemen while he was trying to climb the Lord Jagannath's chariot during the festival.

After the incident, the temple administration had written to the Sankaracharya of Puri for a decision on allowing foreigners onto the chariots. Although the seer held two meetings to resolve the issue, it yielded no results.

In the latest incident, 55-year-old Ileana Citaristi, who has made Odisha her home since 1979, was allegedly manhandled after she climbed atop a chariot to pay her obeisance to Lord Jagannath July 21.

According to her, two priests also abused her and forced her to get off the chariot.

Police have registered a case on the basis of a complaint filed by her. No one has been arrested so far.

Every year, idols of Lord Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra are taken out of the 12th century temple on chariots to another shrine called Gundicha, three km away in the beach town.

Nine days later, the chariots make their return journey known as Bahuda Jatra. A glimpse of the deities is considered auspicious and around a million devotees throng to attend these annual processions.

The chariots are pulled with ropes by devotees amid chants of hymns. Some devotees climb on to the chariots and also embrace the deities.

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