BHUBANESWAR, INDIA, January 23, 2023 (Indian Express): Odisha Governor Ganeshi Lal has backed the entry of foreign nationals inside the world-famous Jagannath Temple in Puri, wading into a debate that has lasted for decades and periodically triggered controversy. “If a foreigner can meet Gajapati, servitors, and Jagatguru Shankaracharya, he/she should also be allowed to meet eyes with the Chakanayana (a name of Lord Jagannath). It is my personal opinion irrespective of whether people will appreciate it or not,” Governor Lal said at Utkal University in Bhubaneswar. Servitors at the 12th-century shrine and researchers of Jagannath culture have expectedly opposed the suggestion, saying that the traditions and practices of the Temple should not be broken.

The Temple is one of the four dhams (char dham) where Lord Jagannath, a form of Lord Vishnu, is worshiped along with his elder brother Lord Balabhadra and sister Devi Subhadra. Only Hindus are allowed inside the shrine to offer prayers to the sibling Deities in the sanctum sanctorum. A sign at the Lion’s Gate (main entrance) of the Temple clearly states: “Only Hindus are allowed.” It has been the practice for centuries — even though there is no clearly articulated reason for it. Some historians believe that multiple attacks on the Temple by Muslim rulers might have led the servitors to impose restrictions on the entry of non-Hindus. Others have said that this was the practice from the time the temple was built. Jagannath, Lord of the Universe, comes to Bada Danda (the Grand Road) along with his siblings during the nine-day Rath Yatra (car festival) in June-July every year — an occasion when non-Hindus can have His darshan. As the Deities go on a sojourn to the Gundicha temple, their birthplace, devotees from around the world throng Puri for a glimpse of the Lord.

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