Puri pandas to visit shrines for tips on hygiene, good conduct

TNN Bureau. Updated: 12/31/2017 12:04:08 PM

Puri, Dec 31: The New Year promises to be a good one for those hoping to visit Puri's revered Jagannath Temple, for plans are afoot to train its 'pandas' or priests by taking them on a tour of shrines across India.

A group of pandas, who perform a spate of rituals, will travel to other noted places of worship to pick up tips on cleanliness and ways to conduct themselves, a temple official said.

The temple authorities are working out an itinerary for the tour which is expected to start in next winters.

The move follows complaints about the behaviour of the pandas, many of whom are said to intimidate worshippers with demands for 'dakshina' or by forcing them to undergo rituals.

"We are planning to take around 60 sevayats to different religious places such as the Vaishno Devi temple, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Tirupati Balaji and the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Kerala. We call it an exposure trip because it will show them how others behave with devotees," a highly-placed temple official told PTI.

The Puri temple has some 120 categories of sevaks or pandas tasked with performing specific duties. The 2015 census states that there are about 8,000 sevaks, or about 1,200 families.

"Most of them them have never moved out of Puri. They are confined to the temple premises. Their behaviour and attitude towards devotees and hygiene had been very poor," said former chief administrator of the temple and ex-collector of Puri, Suresh Chandra Mohapatra.

Mahopatra, during an earlier stint as the temple's chief administrator, had started the exercise. From 2006 to 2008, pandas were taken to other shrines, with the temple administration bearing all expenses.

"We arranged this anubhav yatra because we wanted to expose them to some other big temples and gurudwaras. It was a structured programme and they were given notebooks to write their experiences down," said the IAS officer, who accompanied them to Vaishno Devi in Jammu and the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Kerala.

In four groups of 60-65 people, the pandas visited the shrines, and Mohapatra recalled that they were "overwhelmed" when the chief jathedar of the Golden Temple received them in Amritsar.

"The yatra had a very good impact on their mindset and we saw a lot of change in their attitude after that," he said.

The teams also visited the kitchen in Tirupati and saw how priests there maintained hygiene and cleanliness, said Mohapatra, who joined the temple again in 2015 on the same post for a short period.

The official said that the temple administration plans to have regular sessions with priests on how to behave with devotees.

Some eminent people from their community will also address the pandas.

"Saints will deliver lectures on religious matters. They will also be given lectures on how to behave with pilgrims. " he said.

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