BHUBANESWAR, INDIA, June, 10, 2014 (by PTI): With this year's Rath Yatra festival slated for June 29 fast approaching, the controversy triggered by the suggestion of a ban on the devotees of Lord Jagannath climbing over the chariots as they are pulled is yet to be resolved. Devotees are at present allowed by the pandas to mount the chariots of the three Deities of Lord Balabhadra, Lord Jagannath and Devi Subhadra, often resulting in chaos.
The controversy surfaced in 2011 following a clash between priests and the police over allowing people on top of the chariots. Taking up the incident seriously, the temple administration sought the views of Shankaracharya, who is considered the chief of the decision-making body of the 12th century shrine. The seer was asked to suggest to the SJTA whether non-Hindus can also climb the chariots and touch the deities. The practice has been decried by the Puri Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati and king Divyasingha Deb, who described it as Mahapap (great sin). The Sri Jagannath Temple Managing Committee, headed by Gajapati king Divyasingha Deb, has endorsed the ban recommended by the Puri seer.
The Daitapati priests argue that as the very nomenclature of the Lord suggests that He is Jagannath, the master of the universe, there should be no ban on the people cutting across religions, castes and creed, from climbing the chariots and touching the deities during the festival. Eminent Sanskrit scholar and vice-chancellor of Rastriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, Tirupati, Harekrushna Satpathy says: "It is in fact a sin to touch Lord Jaganath as he is the Brahma. Keeping in view growing threat to Hindu Dhams, former director general of police, Odisha, Gopal Nanda said: "If not for the state of religion, the people should help the administration by not climbing the chariots and touching the Deities for security point of view. However, the daitapati priests feel that there is a conspiracy to debar devotees from touching the Lord and climbing the chariot.