The keys of the Odisha’s world famous 12-century Jagannath Temple’s treasury, popularly known as Ratna Bhandar, had reportedly gone missing during the month of April of 2018. Even after three years of this incident happened, Government of Odisha is not taking any steps to open the Ratna Bhandar and make proper audit of the ornaments.
At a meeting of the Sri Jagannath Temple Managing Committee on April 4, 2018, it was recorded that the keys of the inner chambers of the Ratna Bhandar had gone missing. It was on April 4, 2018, that a 16-member team entered the ‘Ratna Bhandar’ after 34 years for scrutiny of its physical conditions amid tight security following an order of the Orissa High Court.
However, the team members did not enter the inner chambers and saw its condition from outside with the help of search lights as the keys of the inner chamber were not available with Temple Administration. At that time neither the temple administration nor the Puri district treasury had the key of the inner treasury. Government had tried to suppress this news during that time. But the matter came to light two months later during June 2018.
The Shankaracharya of Puri, Swami Nischalananda Saraswati, had slammed the Odisha government for the incident. The episode showed that the State government as well as the temple administration have failed to discharge their responsibilities, the Shankaracharya had said at that time.
Activists of outfits such as the Jagannath Sena and the Sachetana Nagarik Manch had demonstrated near the Shri Jagannath temple in Puri. Activists of Shri Jagannath Sanskruti Surakhya Parishad had done a demonstration Padayatra from Shri Jagannath Temple to Chief Minister of Odisha’s residence for demanding a proper audit of Ratna Bhandar.
What happened & when
Following an order of the Orissa High Court, a team comprising 16 members had entered the ‘Ratna Bhandar’ after 34 years on April 4, 2018 to examine the structural stability and safety of the Ratna Bhandar.
The high court was monitoring the repair works undertaken by the ASI in the shrine since 2016, while adjudicating a plea for judicial intervention for effective repair and renovation of the temple.
They had a quick scrutiny of the physical condition of Ratna Bhandar amid tight security. Shri Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) had said after the inspection that the members of the inspection team did not need to enter the inner chamber as the chambers were visible from outside through an iron grill.
Controversy erupted when a member of the Shri Jagannath Temple Administration informed the media after a month that the keys to the inner Ratna Bhandara were missing. So, it later became clear that the members couldn’t enter the inner chambers of the Ratna Bhandar as the keys were not available.
Amid massive public and political outrage over the loss of keys of Jagannath temple’s inner Ratna Bhandar, Odisha’s CM Naveen Patnaik ordered a judicial inquiry under into the matter on June 4 & transferred IAS officer Pradeep Jena, chief administrator of SJTA on June 11, 2018. The inquiry was conducted by a retired High Court judge.
The issue took a fresh turn after the district administration discovered the duplicate keys to the Bhandara rooms on June 14, 2018.
Former Temple Administration (SJTA) members had told that the original keys to the Bhandara, which are missing, were supposed to be stored in the Treasury Office of the Collectorate and there was no provision for duplicate keys. Even rules associated with the temple did not have any provision for maintaining duplicate keys to the ‘room of jewels’. “Where did these keys come from?” historians and researchers on Jagannath culture raised questions.
On November 30, 2018, Justice Raghubir Das Inquiry Commission had submitted its final probe report on mysterious loss of the keys of Jagannath temple’s inner Ratna Bhandar (treasury) to the Odisha government. The Commission submitted a 324-page report to the Home Department.
The report will be tabled in the Assembly, officials had stated at that time. Even after long 8 months, in a written reply to a question of Congress leader Narasingh Mishra in Odisha Assembly, Minister of State for Home Dibya Shankar Mishra said that the report is under examination.
On 29th October 2019, leader of opposition in Odisha Assembly Pradipta Kumar Naik had written a letter to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to open the Ratna Bhandar of the Shri Jagannath Temple and make an inventory of the ornaments stored there.
Mentioning that devotees across the country are concerned over the safety of the valuables in the treasury ever since the issue of the missing keys of the ‘Ratna Bhandar’, the state government should take the initiative to open it immediately and make a proper audit of the ornaments stored there, if any discrepancy is found with the inventory compiled in 1978, necessary steps must be taken to unearth the mystery, he wrote in the letter.
The original keys are still remained untraced. And the ‘truth’, many suspected, was that at least some of the precious jewellery inside the Ratna Bhandar had been pilfered by a criminal nexus of temple officials and servitors.
A report obtained during this August through RTI Act revealed that the ‘Ratna Bhandar’ of Puri Jagannath temple is now in a dilapidated condition and it may suffer more damage due to dampness. According to a source, the walls of Ratna Bhandar have developed a number of cracks with plaster falling apart at several places. Some of the iron beams supporting the ceiling are missing while stone pillars made to support the walls have also broken.
A barrage of questions followed
Where did the ‘duplicate’ keys come from? How did they land in the record room?
Why Odisha Govt and Jagannath Temple Administration are still reluctant to open the Ratna Bhandar with these duplicate keys?
Doubts about the government’s intentions have persisted primarily because of its refusal even at this late stage to order the opening of the Ratna Bhandar and stock taking of the wealth stored inside it to see if everything recorded in the last inventory made way back in 1978 is intact or not.
The judicial commission has submitted the final report to the state government. But, unfortunately neither any action was taken nor the government make public the findings of inquiry commission.
Why the government is not initiating opening up of the ‘Ratna Bhandar’ ?
What is Ratna Bhandar?
The Ratna Bhandar is a part of rituals at the Jagannath Temple. It is closely linked to sentiments of devotees. The most-valuable property of Sri Mandira is Sri ‘Ratna Bhandar’. As indicated by the laws and practices of Sri Mandira, the gold, gems, and so forth offered to Sri Jagannath Mahaprabhu are to be put away in this Ratna Bhandar.
The Ratna Bhandar is present on the northern side of the Jagamohan of Jagannath Temple. According to Shree Jagannath Temple Record of Rights (RoR), the Ratna Bhandar is located at plot number 5 and 6. While the Ratna Bedi of Bhagwan Jagannath, Sri Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra is at plot number 1.
Earlier, the Ratna Bhandar was opened in 1964 and 1984. The ‘Ratna Bhandar’ of Shri Jagannath Temple at Puri had more than 120 kg of gold and 221 kg of silver 40 years back when the last inventory of the valuables was made.
The Ratna Bhandar of Srimandir consists of seven rooms. Currently, three rooms out of seven are being used for various rituals of deities. The jewelries and valuables, which are used during Suna Besha of Bhagwan Jagannath, are stored in these three rooms. However, nothing is clear about rest of the four rooms where precious ornaments and gems are stored.
According to RoR-4, 1952 of Srimandir, there are 150 varieties of gold jewelries including three Haridakanti Malas (a kind of ornament) weighed around 120 tola inside the Bahar Bhandar (open treasury). Besides, precious gems including diamond and other ornaments of gold and silver are also kept inside the Ratna Bhandar.
As per ancient Madala Panjika, King Anaga Bheema Deb had donated 2.50 lakh madha gold (1 madha = half tola = 5.8319 gram) for making varieties of jewelries for Bhagwan Jagannath at Srimandir. The rulers belonging to Surya Vansh in Odisha had also offered valuable gold for the deities. The scripture found on Digvijay Dwara of the temple says that Gajapati Kapilendra Deb had donated a huge amount of gold and ornaments in 1466 AD.
–By Anil Biswal (Columnist and researcher)