Renovation work at Jagannath temple on hold

Bhubaneswar : Crucial renovation work at the 12th century Jagannath temple complex in Puri, Odisha is likely to be delayed by a week due to a stalemate between the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and priests, an official said Wednesday.

The long pending de-plastering work at Jagmohan – a structure adjacent to the sanctum sanctorum of the temple at Puri, 56 km from here – was scheduled to start Monday, but it had to be halted due to opposition from temple priests.

The priest body, Chhatisha Nijog Maha Sammilani, submitted a seven-point charter of demands to the ASI authorities saying they would allow the renovation work only when all their demands were fulfilled.

“The ASI has been doing preservation work for the past 35 years, but has never made those details public,” Ramdas Mohapatra, a leader of the priest body, said . They should first make public these details, including what they have done and the amount of money they have spent, he said.

Over a million devotees visit the famous temple, but over the years seepage, falling stones and plaster peeling off are among the problems dogging the shrine.

“The ASI should also disclose the status of the stones and idols it has relocated from the temple,” Mohapatra said.

“We have also asked them to provide identity cards to all workers and experts engaged in the conservation work, so that people know who are involved in the work,” he said.

The temple authorities tried to end the deadlock by initiating dialogue between the priests and the ASI officials both Monday and Tuesday, but it yielded no results.

“ASI officials have agreed to meet the demands of the priests and promised to furnish the details soon,” temple public relations officer Laxmidhar Pujapanda said .

“Once the ASI officials submit the report and provide identity cards to people engaged in the conservation work, another meeting will be held and we hope the renovation will start after that. However, I don’t think it will be done this week,” he added.

The demands by the priests came after a one-tonne stone fell from the roof of the western gate of the Jagannath Temple Nov 1, injuring a visually-challenged devotee.

Soon after the incident, the priests and the state government accused the ASI of poorly conserving the shrine.

The Jagannath temple was declared a centrally-protected monument in 1975 and conservation was started the same year following the recommendations of an expert committee set up by the ASI.

The dilapidated condition of Jagmohan, or the hall of audience, was spotted in 2008 and the ASI and technical experts had suggested removal of lime plaster from the structure.

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