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SOP for entry, medics on standby — how team plans to inventory Jagannath temple's Ratna Bhandar

Ratna Bhandar in Jagannath temple complex was last inventoried in 1978. Committee led by Orissa HC judge has recommended 3 SOPs for exercise to be carried out on 14 July.

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Kolkata: The Ratna Bhandar (treasure trove) of Jagannath temple in Odisha’s Puri is all set to be opened on 14 July for the first time in almost half a century. The “divine treasures” in the treasure trove — gold, jewels etc. offered to the deity — were last inventoried in 1978.

A high-level committee constituted by the Odisha government following a high court directive took the decision to open the doors of Ratna Bhandar after a meeting in Puri Tuesday.

Speaking to INDIANEXPOSE, Retired Orissa High Court judge Justice Biswanath Rath, who is chairman of the high-level committee, said it has forwarded the proposal along with three SOPs to the state government for clearance and the same are likely to be sanctioned Wednesday.

“We have essentially prepared three SOPs to carry out the entire exercise that hasn’t been witnessed in India in the recent past. The first SOP will have guidelines on entering the Ratna Bhandar, the second SOP will be about transporting and securing the valuables within the temple and the third SOP is to prepare the inventory,” explained Justice Rath.

Articles stored in the Ratna Bhandar of the Jagannath temple complex are classified into three categories: the ones kept in Bhitar Bhandar and never used; the ones meant for ceremonial or festive occasions like the Rath Yatra; and the ones kept in Bahar Bhandar for daily use.

“There are many precious jewels and valuables stored in the Ratna Bhandar which belong to the holy trinity and need an updated inventory, and we will open it next week this way or that way,” Justice Rath told INDIANEXPOSE.

The small team tasked with carrying out this herculean task will enter the Ratna Bhandar only after praying to Lord Jagannath and promising the deity that they would not reveal the details about anything they see inside in public.

“We have yet to decide the number of people who will enter. But since the passageway is tiny, it will be a very small but efficient team. We will have to pray to the holy trinity, before entering, there will be rituals as well. We must be bathed; we cannot even wear undergarments. We will only wear a wet gamcha (handloom towel) around our neck and waist and enter the Ratna Bhandar. It relates to our Hindu sentiments and without Lord Jagannath’s permission nothing happens,” added Justice Rath.

A medical team will also be on standby for any emergency on the day of the exercise since sevayats — people who perform rituals at the Jagannath temple — claim there are ‘divine spirits’ and snakes in the Ratna Bhandar, but the team is all set for the historic exercise.  

Originally under the care of the Gajapati of Puri, Ratna Bhandar was first opened in 1905 by the British administration for ‘inspection’ and inventoried in 1926. 

It was last inventoried in 1978 under the supervision of a committee led by the then Odisha Governor Bhagabat Dayal Sharma.

According to Justice Rath, the report at the time only described the jewels and made a note of their weight. 

“When the inventory was made, they didn’t say if it was diamond or sapphire or emerald or pearl, the list only described a necklace and colours on it. This time we will sit with goldsmiths, gemologists and experts who can ascertain the stones,” he added. 

The entire exercise took roughly 70 days back in 1978, and copies of the report were submitted to the temple trust, the high court and the chief minister’s office. 

“This is a highly sensitive exercise and secretive too. Just like we don’t publicise how much gold or diamonds we have in our home. Similarly, the details of the Ratna Bhandar are never disclosed,” said Justice Rath. 

Another attempt to carry out an inventory was made in 2018 but the team completed the inspection in 40 minutes since the key to the Ratna Bhandar did not work and the structural damages were a concern for the Archeological Survey of India (ASI). This time, the team will also repair the damages before valuables are placed back inside the Ratna Bhandar from a temporary Ratna Bhandar earmarked within the temple complex. 

The temple premises will remain open for devotees, albeit with some restrictions.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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