More than six and half decades after it brought in a special Act to manage the affairs of the 12th century Jagannath temple in Puri, the Odisha government has drafted a similar Act to manage the rituals and other activities of the 11th century Lingaraj temple, the biggest temple in Bhubaneswar.
The Lingaraj Temple Act, 2020 (a draft of which is with HT) would free the temple in old Bhubaneswar area from the Odisha Hindu Religious Endowment Act and put the Shiva temple under the control of Lingaraj Temple Managing Committee with a full-time administrator looking after day-to-day affairs of the shrine. The Jagannath temple was the first temple in Odisha to have a special Act made for it in 1955 after being under British control for a long time.
A law department official said the draft Act would be discussed on Tuesday before being brought in as a Bill in the winter session of the Assembly next month.
Under Lingaraj Temple Act, a fund would be created in which the income derived from the movable and immovable properties of the temple would be deposited. Besides, donations and offerings by the pilgrims and devotees in Hundies would be deposited in that fund. The temple has around 1500 acre in various parts of the state and the land in most of the places are under encroachment.
The move to have a special law for Lingaraj temple came after chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s tour to Puri on Saturday to take stock of the Rs 3,200 crore package for infrastructure development of the temple town. Patnaik on Saturday went around the Jagannath temple, which has been shut since March due to pandemic, and ordered quick completion of the beautification project around it.
In January this year, Patnaik had visited the famous Maa Samaleswari temple in western Odisha district of Sambalpur to offer his prayers. Prayers over, Patnaik announced that an expert team will soon assess the requirements of the temple and the devotees and based on that the state government will take further steps.
The same month, he visited Baripada town of Mayurbhanj district, announcing a grant of Rs 5 crore for the development of the temple. In December last year, the Odisha CM had announced a Rs 5 crore package each for the Baladevjew temples of Kendrapara town.
Though some Congress workers on Saturday showed him black flag on his way, political analysts say the BJD’s temple moves are concerted efforts to portray a soft Hindutva image.
“BJP is already the party’s main opponent in Odisha and by 2024 it would mount a major challenge to unseat the regional party. As BJP is likely to play the religious card in a deeply religious state like Odisha, the BJD may be trying to deny BJP the same. It’s a very calculated move,” said political science professor Gyana Ranjan Swain of Ravenshaw University in Cuttack.
Swain said the move to have a special Act for Lingaraj temple and beautification of Jagannath temple would help the regional party set a separate narrative on religion. “BJD’s mobilisation on temples is an attempt in initiating a separate discourse on religion that would be different from BJP. The party surely does not want to give the BJP any edge on this matter.”
Political analyst Rabi Das said while BJD’s moves on the temple were a tactic to stop the BJP’s growth in a religious place like Odisha, it wants to take advantage of BJP’s predicament in matters of religion. “While BJP may try to criticise BJD in demolition of some temples around Jagannath temple and Lingaraj temple, the truth is a majority of people in Odisha support the government’s move. The temple beautification drive also helps the state’s tourism as a large part of the domestic tourists come to Odisha for its temples,” said Das.
However, BJP leader Sajjan Sharma said having special Act for Lingaraj temple or beautification of the temples would not hide the government’s failure in temple management. “The government is yet to account for the properties in Jagannath temple treasury as it is yet to be opened. For the last 9 months, Jagannath temple has been closed while thousands of devotees and priests want it to be opened. Merely beautifying temples would not give BJD any Hindutva appeal,” said Sharma.
BJD leaders said the special Act for Lingaraj temple as well as beautification of the temples should not be seen from a religious angle. “If the government is taking steps for better management as beautification of the exterior of our temples then more and more tourists will come. These temples would be our growth engines,” said Bijay Nayak of BJD.