Odisha: Mystery Over Lord Jagannath’s Ratna Bhandar Continues

Bhubaneswar: The mystery over Lord Jagannath’s ‘Ratna Bhandar’ has deepened as the Odisha government seemed to have “no plan” to reopen the inner chamber of the treasury of the 12th-century shrine in Puri.

The state government has also refused to share information about the temple’s assets with an RTI activist, devotees reportedly claimed on Monday.

Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) under the state law department, did not respond to the queries of Balangir-based RTI activist Hemant Panda, a PTI report said, adding that the State Information Commission recently imposed a fine on an officer of SJTA for not sharing information in the public interest.

Asserting that the SJTA cannot decide to open the inner chamber of the ‘Ratna Bhandar’, Temple Administrator (Development) Ajay Kumar Jena said the issue will be placed before the Sri Jagannath Temple Managing Committee in its next meeting. The SJTA will inform the government about the managing committee’s decision, he said.

It seemed that water seeps through cracks in the wall of the store, temple’s ‘Ratna Bhandar’ in-charge and servitor Niranjan Mekap said, adding that the treasury “must be opened immediately and repaired”.

Leader of Opposition in the state assembly Jayanarayan Mishra has alleged that the state government has never made any effort to open the inner chamber of the treasury which has gold, diamond jewellery, precious stones and other ornaments.

It remained closed for 44 years even as the Sri Jagannath Temple Act, 1955, has a provision of undertaking inspection of the ‘Ratna Bhandar’ every three years, the BJP leader said.

Senior leaders of the ruling BJD remain tight-lipped over the issue.

Law Minister Jagannath Saraka had told the Assembly on July 16 that if any proposal is received to open the ‘Ratna Bhandar’, the state government will take necessary steps after examining different aspects.

Congress and BJP legislators in the House had demanded an “immediate inventory of items stored in the treasury.

Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb, the titular king of Puri, who is also the chairman of the Temple Managing Committee, has sought steps to open the treasury to clear doubts of devotees over the presence of assets.

The Archaeological Survey of India, which looks after the maintenance of Odisha’s most popular religious site, had also recently urged the state government to open the ‘Ratna Bhandar’ for the physical inspection of the structure.

“The Ratna Bhandar is located in the basement of the temple. It should be inspected physically. The walls of the treasury may be damaged due to climate impact. It must be repaired,” a senior ASI official was quoted by PTI as saying.

The temple has at least two chambers of its treasury.

The ‘Bahar Bhandar’ (outer chamber) stores ornaments used by the deities on a daily basis, while many pieces of jewellery are kept in the inner chamber of the treasury, according to temple sources.

An attempt was made to open the inner chamber of ‘Ratna Bhandar’ in April 2018 following a directive of the Orissa High Court, but it was not successful as keys were not found at that time. A team, comprising ASI officials, priests and others, then carried out an inspection from outside.

Former Temple Administrator Rabindra Narayan Mishra, who was part of the team that inspected the inner chamber of the treasury in 1978, said the Ratna Bhandar is divided into two parts. While the outer chamber stores ornaments and valuables for regular use of the deities, most precious jewellery items are kept in the inner chamber. Earlier, the ‘Ratna Bhandar’ was opened in 1803 and 1926.

“I think it is high time to do an inventory of the ornaments stored in the Ratna Bhandar and allow ASI to inspect the physical structure of the temple,” he said.

In 2021, then law minister Pratap Jena informed the House that according to 1978 inventory, the ‘Ratna Bhandar’ had 12,831 ‘bhari’ of gold and 22,153 ‘bhari’ of silver (one bhari is equal to 11.66 grams).

The treasury also had 12,831 gram of gold ornaments with precious stones and other valuables in store, he had said.

As much as 22,153 gram of silver with expensive stones, silver utensils and other valuables were found there, Jena mentioned, adding that due to various reasons, 14 gold and silver items could not be weighed during the inventory process.

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