The Shree Jagannath Temple, the seat of the Lord of the Three Worlds, evokes piety and reverence. For centuries, the temple has been an enormous draw for pilgrims and tourists from inside the country and abroad. But not many people know what it takes to manage the day-to-day affairs or organize a colossal fest like Rath Yatra. The onus rests with the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA). This authority has the onerous responsibility of managing all the stakeholders in the ecosystem including the servitors.
The SJTA has its moorings in the Shree Jagannath Temple Act, 1954 which turned into a law in 1955. According to Section 5 of the Act which was enforced in December 27, 1960, “The administration and governance of the temple and its endowments shall vest in a committee called Shree Jagannath Temple Managing Committee constituted by the state government”. Since 2004, the managing committee and the administrative structure have been upgraded and an IAS officer in the rank of Revenue Divisional Commissioner is appointed as the Chief Administrator.
The man anchoring the administration is Mr Ranjan Kumar Das. He is an official with impeccable credentials and unquestionable efficiency. When he took charge from VV Yadav as the Chief Administrator of SJTA in April 2023, he realized he was stepping into the huge shoes of responsibility. He had to meet a groundswell of expectations from the officials as well as the people. In an interview, he admitted that he felt like a student who had to take a crucial examination even though he did not attend any classes throughout the year. It was like a marathon runner taking on a race without any training – he had to hit the ground running and be confident in his abilities to succeed.
Das was initially unarmed and possibly tentative to start with. But he took this assignment as the calling of the Divine and steeled himself for the Mission. He spent many a sleepless night and held copious consultations with the Sevayat Niyogis (servitors’ committees) to get the hang of the situation and to understand his responsibilities better. In around six months, he is weaving an understated yet laudable script of transformation. Soon after taking over the mantle, he has been bombarded with a barrage of questions and allegations. Most notably, the price rice of Mahaprasad and the unscrupulous elements triggering black marketing of the pious offering.
Mr Das has taken the matter sternly. He has strengthened oversight and enforcement to rein the wayward elements bent on making quick bucks by fleecing the devotees. He explained that there was a demand surge with more visitors streaming in than anticipated.
His biggest challenge was to conduct the Rath Yatra smoothly and ensure seamless darshan for all inbound visitors. Emboldened by the success of the Rath Yatra, he has set himself for other pressing issues like encroachment of the Lord Jagannath’s land in Odisha and other states. He has set in motion a satellite survey to assess the land status and initiate punitive action against the encroachers.
Mr Das defends the Government of Odisha’s action on Shree Jagannath Heritage Corridor Project, stating all modernization and revamp works have been in sync with the guidelines of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the National Heritage Mission.
On the contentious issue of opening of Ratna Bhandar, he is awaiting the report of the ASI which had sought permission to conduct laser scanning to assess the damage to the walls. He believes that the best time to undertake repair and renovation work is just after Rath Yatra when the three deities are out of the temple.
Das also endorses the notion of dressing decently while visiting the Shree Jagannath Temple premises. “There is an unspoken dress code for every occasion. When we walk into our offices or attend a wedding ceremony, we are appropriately dressed. Nobody coaches on how we should deck up for such occasions. Likewise, we should also follow the same protocol when we enter the sacred temple premises. People should realize that they are not walking into a pub or holidaying that they could dress at their liberty”.
He is a reformer and a believer. And a zealous devotee of the Lord too. His leadership will unlock new corridors of development.
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