Academic responds to effigy burning
By Robert Provost Adjunct Prof. Berkeley, California, USA
Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb Chairman, Sri Jagannath Temple Managing Committee Sri Nahar, Puri 752001
Dear Respected Gajapati Maharaja,
Namaskara & namaste.
Today I read an article in ‘The Hindu’ [http://www.hindu.com/2008/11/12/stories/2008111251940300.htm] newspaper regarding a protest by “a number of servitors” of the Jagannath Temple in Puri, against the ISCKON organization.
As a philosophy teacher I maintained a residence at Puri for four years from 1996 – 2000, studying Sri Jagannatha worship. I mixed intimately with the local residents and I know people there, so I am not unaware of the habits & behavior of certain sevaitas and pandas in this town. In fact I was even introduced to your Highness in Bhuvaneswara during one ceremony there, about 10 years ago.
As I understand things according to this article, there are two issues at hand.
The first is ISCKON’s apparent non-commitment to observe the holy Jagannatha Rathayatra on the actual date that the anniversary occurs. To my mind there is no good reason why ISCKON, at least in India cannot observe this ceremonial function on the appropriate day. I believe that ISCKON observes Sri Krishna Janmashtami on the same day that other temples observe it, so I cannot understand why ISCKON would not want to comply with the Jagannatha temple administration’s request. This sounds very reasonable to any observer.
What sounds unreasonable though and in fact an outright act of irreligion and blasphemy, was the act of certain Jagannatha Servitors burning an “effigy of Srila Prabhupad”, the founder acharya of ISKCON.
History shows that the founder acharya of ISKCON was the person solely responsible for spreading the worship of Sri Jagannatha in the entire world, outside of India. Any academic in the field of religion and eastern philosophy will concur because the facts speak for themselves.
Millions of people who were otherwise ignorant of Jagannatha worship have been enlightened about this sacred tradition by this one person’s efforts and his books which are now ubiquitous. Because of his efforts, Jagannatha is now worshiped the world over. He has not only spread Jagannatha’s teachings via Bhagavad Gita (since Jagannatha is Krsna) but has also engaged hundreds of thousands of non-vaisnavas in helping to serve Sri Jagannathadeva by pulling the ropes of the Ratha cart in cities across the globe. All these people now sing Jaya Jagannatha joyfully. Is that not great service to Sri Jagannathadeva?
It also appears to me that even hundreds of thousands of people WITHIN now happily participate in the Rathayatra festival because of Srila Prabhupad’s efforts to spread Jagannatha worship in your own country. No doubt many of these same people have also made the pilgrimage to Puri because of his efforts, thus bringing financial improvement to the city of Puri.
The burning of an “effigy of Srila Prabhupad”, who is recognized worldwide as the greatest modern proponent of Vaisnavism, by constituents of your own Puri administration is, I feel, an incredible blow to your own prestige and to the residents of Puri. This act is nothing short of the most heinous sacrilegious behavior. It is also an act of terrorism. It has been perpetrated by people who are not lovers of Jagannatha, but who are haters of others. It is terrorism commensurate with Hindus & Muslims hatred toward each other, which will never lead to peace. But this is worse because now it is Hindu hating Hindu.
Even if the ISKCON administration committed the blunder of observing Rathayatra on an incorrect day, their intention cannot be viewed as vicious or of ill-intent toward others. Nor can that negligence be compared to the terrorist act of burning the effigy of a religious order’s leader. The act of your constituents burning an effigy of their founder acharya is both diabolical & reprehensible. I can imagine that such an irreligious act will incur the wrath of many, many Indians worldwide who respect & love ISKCON’s founder acharya. I can also imagine that Sri Jagannatha Himself will not allow such a devious deed to go unpunished. As I understand it, the laws of karma for offenses to Jagannatha’s dear servitors are severe. There must be consequences.
As an outside observer I can assure you that people around the world in the academic community will view this as an outrage; and one for which you as the Chairman of Sri Jagannath Temple Managing Committee must take responsibility. Hindus worldwide who will read about this atrocity, will also not take it lightly.
I would urge you in the strongest possible way to try and make amends to rectify what has transpired under your jurisdiction.
Robert Provost Adjunct Prof. Berkeley, California, USA