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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Deprivation of Hindu charity by secular State: An Example from Puri

We often hear why don’t Hindus do any charity? Some even go further and render undue praise for the charitable institutions run by non-Hindu communities. It is not that difficult to see various spheres of philanthropic activities conducted by Hindu religious communities across Bharat. Various Mathas belonging to different Dharmic Sampradayas have been at the forefront of the socio-cultural milieu of Odisha’s Puri with an elaborate system of humanitarian institutions. But today most of the schools and other institutions run by these Mathas have been taken over by the government. 

The concept of Yatri Nivas is still preserved in its traditional form in Puri, which serves as accommodation facilities for poor Hindus coming to the temple town as pilgrims. One such Yatri Nivas currently functioning in Puri is the Punjabi Yatri Nivas which caters to the needs of Hindus coming to the sacred town from Pakistan, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Afghanistan. Pilgrims in these lodges are provided accommodation and food without having to pay a single penny. Apart from that, there are five other Yatri Nivas meant to cater to the pilgrims coming from Bengal, Assam, Manipur, Nepal etc.  

Point to be noted; these Yatri Nivas provide to poor pilgrims as the affluent people usually prefer to stay in hotels. But now these Yatri Niwas buildings are also marked for demolition by the Odisha government as they fall within the 75m radius limit. After the pillaging of Emara, Bada akhara and Languli Matha, these poor pilgrims are left unattended. Of late, a large number of poor devotees are seen sleeping on the streets around Srimandira since the Yatri Nivas buildings are endangered.

Uttar Parswa Matha, located on the north side of Sri Jagannath Temple, was established in the 15th century by disciples of Shri Ramanujacharya, the founder of Srivaishnava sect. Every ruler, including Shivaji’s general Babu Rao, had given endowments for the Matha. However, Matha’s properties have been shrinking post Independence. 

In the medieval period itself, the Matha had received a large tract of land called ‘Mahalas’ in the Nilagiri area in Balasore district for providing food and water for pilgrims on their way to Puri. Similarly, a large tract of swampy land in Gaindol village near Chhaitana in Sadar block was used for rearing cows and bulls belonged to the Matha. The Matha once owned 100 cows, over time, the number of milch cattle has reduced to just 35. The Matha still supplies milk, curd and ghee to Sri Jagannath temple. 

The Matha owned a vast tract of agricultural land to the Matha in Derunia village in Kakatpur block for making mohanbhog and ballav, two items that are offered daily to Lord Jagannath as part of ‘Sakaldhup Kothbhog’. But the Estate Abolition Act, Sri Jagannath Temple Act and Endowment Act by the secular State took away the Matha’s property. In 2014 and 2016 also, the State had acquired 30 feet of land belonging to the Matha to broaden the path around the temple. 

The Matha also has been providing accommodation for the pilgrims reaching Puri. The pathshala of Rewasa matha is currently used by policemen deployed at Sri Mandira. The State reasoned that Bulldozing of heritage Mathas and other structures were essential to improve the facilities for the pilgrims coming to seek the darshan of Shri Jagannatha. If it was the case, isn’t it better to allow the Hindu Mathas to provide accommodation and anna dana facilities as it has been from time immemorial?  Or is it that the secular State does not recognize the Hindu community’s ability to manage philanthropic institutions? Or one must wonder if there is any real estate lobby playing in the demolition of heritage Mathas and buildings so that they can build Hotel complexes for the rich. 

The systematic deprivation of Hindu community institutions meant to cater to the needs of the poor, and for the nurture of the Hindu, heritage has been an agenda of the secular State.  Unfortunately, as a result, the Mathas of Puri have been some of the victims.

(Note: This article has been jointly authored by Ravilochanan Anjali George (@IchBinGorg) of the Indic Collective Trust.)

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