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Dandavats! All Glories to Sri Guru and Sri Gauranga!

Academic responds to effigy burning

Friday, 14 November 2008 / Published in News / 4,647 views

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’ [] 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

Dear Suresh Chandra Mahapatra...
Puri priests up in arms against ISKCON

7 Responses to “Academic responds to effigy burning”

  1. Locanananda dasa says :

    These are very powerful words written in defense of Srila Prabhupada by a Berkeley, California professor. He has loudly proclaimed that it was our spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who was responsible for introducing the worship of Lord Jagannatha and the holy festival of Rathayatra throughout the world. I hope ISKCON will quickly publish an official letter in response to the effigy burning of Srila Prabhupada by this hateful band of neophyte temple priests from Jagannatha Puri. As dedicated followers of Srila Prabhupada, we should all be as outraged as the Professor.

  2. jagabandhu dasa says :

    Respected Venerables,

    Please excuse me. Sorry to bother you all.

    I was very sorry to hear of the Sri Ratha-yatra scheduling disagreement that has taken place between the various sevaites of Sri Jagannatha Dev.

    If we consider the story from Srimad-Bhagavatam about Maharaj Amburish and the offense against his lotus feet by Durvas Muni, along with Lord Vishnu’s advice to Durvas Muni: cannot the offense to Srila Prabhupada and his worldwide followers possibly become ameliorated by the earnestly appealed for forgiveness by the offenders, who voluntarily with enthusiastic repentance escort the palanquin-carried murti of Sri Jagannatha Dev’s exalted dearmost servitor Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada into His (Sri Jagannatha Dev’s) temple for a maha guru-puja offering to His Divine Grace in the presence of Lord Jagannatha, Lord Baladev and Lady Subhadra, thereby giving opportunity for the offenders to become rectified and redeemed by recompense fulfilled ?

    In this way the global family of Sri Jagannatha Dev, regardless of particular specific institutional affiliation, might be re-united in concerted action for that one aim of prolifically promulgating truly universal love of God throughout the world.

    To give dishonor, honors no one.


    the lowly Jagabandhu das

  3. isvaradas says :

    ISKCON devotees are currently having a parikrama in Jagannatha Puri. It will be a big shame if the devotees at the parikrama simply go about their parikrama without lodging a strong protest with the Puri administration. I heard there are about 4000 ISKCON devotees in Puri. I wonder what they are doing.

    This is the greatest insult ever experienced in our lifetime. A devotee can tolerate any offense unto himself. but offense unto a pure devotee of the Lord is the most intolerable.

    I am still waiting to hear official ISKCON response to this.

    your servant,

    Isvara dasa.

    P.S. As a personally protest, I am boycotting Puri for as long as the offenders are not brought to book. I will champagne to anybody I know to boycott Puri.

  4. Kulapavana says :

    While our outrage at the blatant act of irreligion and blasphemy by certain Jagannatha Servitors burning an effigy of Srila Prabhupada is fully justified, we should also focus on this fragment of the above letter:

    “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.”

    It seems to me that Prof. Robert Provost makes a very valid comment. Why not resolve this conflict that has been festering for years? ISKCON is there to stay in India, so is the Temple of Lord Jagannatha in Puri. I pray that reasonable voices prevail on both sides.

    Jaya Jagannatha!

  5. Akruranatha says :

    Yes, there definitely should be an official ISKCON response made on behalf of the Governing Body. I do not want to rush anybody, because it ought to be a very good response, but I am surprised so far to have only seen responses from individual devotees who do not speak on behalf of ISKCON as a whole.

    As for whether ISKCON at least in India can observe Rathayatra on the exact date, and whether this seems like a reasonable request by the Puri temple administration, that would be a question best directed to those who organize ISKCON Ratha Yatras in India. I do not agree that it is necessarily a reasonable request.

    There might be all kinds of logistic problems (or maybe it can be done), but for us the fact that Srila Prabhupada did not do it that way is sufficient to satisfy us that observing Ratha Yatra on the specific date is not particularly important spiritually. On the other hand, if it is a practical measure that can avoid a confrontation and achieve valuable objectives for improving the preaching atmosphere in India, it might be something ISKCON should consider.

    However, it is a completely different question from the outrageous and abominable tactics employed by those who ignorantly protested against ISKCON. This may be one of those situations where there can be no practical discussions unless and until the serious offense to Srila Prabhupada’s lotus feet has been duly rectified.

    It reminds me of an incident following the 9/11/01 attack on the World Trade Center. A Saudi prince gave a very large, multi-million dollar donation to New York City to help defray the City’s huge losses in the attack. However, the prince went on to say that while he regretted the criminal tactics employed by the terrorists, the U.S. should also reconsider its middle-eastern foreign policy which aroused the animosity of those who perpetrated such atrocious crimes. The Mayor of New York City immediately rejected and returned the donation, and was widely applauded for his decision.

    It was not that there is no place for discussing and criticising the U.S. policies in the middle east, but the raising of the issue at that time and in conjunction with the large donation made the donation seem like an attempt to buy off American anger at the terrorists, and even to buy acceptance that the terrorist attack could serve some beneficial purpose as an occasion for reconsidering U.S. policy.

    The two issues should not be linked, as if one excuses the other.

  6. jagabandhu dasa says :

    Dandavatts to all! Sri Sri Guru-Gauranga Jayate! All Glory to Srila Prabhupada!

    I’m concerned that other ideological bullies in the world may now think that if they wish to impose demands on ISKCON, the need only threaten to burn an effigy of the beloved Founder-Acharya, in order to achieve their misguided objectives. It amounts to conceding to bullyism, which should not be tolerated. It also worries me that some might consider it their considerably misguided privilege to respond in kind by burning an effigy of the Lord of Puri.

    This morning I noticed a report on another webpage about some of Srila Prabhupada’s followers congregating in Puri for a protest and Harinam around the Sri Jagannath Mandir. I was very disturbed to read that some of the Harinam particpants had to be forcibly prevented from immolating themselves as a protest in front of the temple.

    The same article mentions that one of the offenders made a facsimile of apology claiming they didn’t intend to insult Srila Prabhupada(or his position as a Guru) by burning his effigy. Durvas Muni also did not intend to offend Maharaj Amburish. Unfortunately, the path to hell is often paved with good intentions.


    Jagabandhu das

  7. Akruranatha says :

    I would like to hear from senior devotees who have extensive experience in preaching in India and from association with Srila Prabhupada whether or to what extent it is important for ISKCON to maintain good relations with the Puri temple administration.

    The impression I have gotten so far from some senior devotees (like Pusta Krishna) is that it is not very important. Jagabandhu has also recently cited that Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur had some unresolved disputes with them, and we know that Srila Prabhupada rejected their position on not allowing non-Hindu devotees into the temple.

    Of course we should be humble and respectful to all Vaisnavas and certainly to those who are servants of Lord Jagannatha. (Sanatan Goswami burned his feet walking on the hot beach just to avoid possibly contaminating Lord Jagannatha’s servants by brushing against them when he had oozing sores on his body).

    But is it really very important for ISKCON that the public see that ISKCON and the Puri temple administration have reached an accord and resolved their dispute? Or can we just explain ourselves to them and to the public, and let the Puri adminsitration and pandas go on disagreeing if they cannot see the error of their ways?