42 years on, Sridevi idol yet to be installed in Odisha’s Jagannath temple

Reported by Choudhury Amitabh Das
Bhubaneswar, Mar 28:

Even as the countdown for the Nabakalebara, the periodic change of body of the three presiding deities of Odisha’s holy town of Puri, has begun in right earnest, an idol of Sridevi (Goddess Laxmi) made of pure gold has been awaiting a Nabakalebara of its own for an unbelievable 42 years.


While both the Sri Jagannath Temple Administration and the Odisha government have done everything they could to keep it under wraps, it is reliably learnt that the installation of the idol on its designated Ratnavedi (the bejewelled pedestal) has been hanging fire for over four decades because of a dispute over who should have the consecration rights.

According to sources, the need to replace the Sridevi idol was felt over four decades ago as the old idol, also made of gold, was slowly rotting. There was consensus about the need to replace the idol after the  matter was brought to the notice of the SJTA.

In 1973, the temple administration decided to replace the idol. Accordingly, an idol made of 3 kg of gold was prepared. However, it could not be installed at its rightful place as dispute arose over who should perform the rituals of consecration.

The temple administration could not decide whether to bestow the consecration rights on the Deula Purohit or Puja Panda and the matter remained unresolved for years. In the meantime, the new idol was moved to the Ratna Bhandar (Treasury of Lord Jagannath) for its safety.

Since then, Nabakalebara festivals have been conducted twice and the controversial issue has been raised umpteen times. But the administration has chosen to play safe and not to open the Pandora’s Box.

The matter was raised again in the temple coordination committee meeting last week presided over by Gajapati Maharaj Dibyasingh Deo. Though the committee did not reject the proposal outright, it again put the issue in the backburner saying it would be examined later.

“The matter pertaining to replacement of the Sridevi idol is being examined and we would solicit experts’ opinion on this. Necessary steps would be taken based on their suggestions,” Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingh Deo, the head of the committee, told OST.

“A decision was taken to replace the Sridevi idol over four decades back. The gold idol was duly made. I fail to understand the reason why it has not been consecrated yet,” the temple administrator during 1973, Bihari Lal Patnaik said.

Lord Jagannath, the symbol of universal love and brotherhood, is worshipped in the 12th century shrine along with Balabhadra, Subhadra, Sudarshan, Madhaba, Sridevi (Goddess Laxmi) and Bhudevi (Goddess Saraswati) on the Ratnavedi which is known as samasta vigraha (combination of deities).

During Nabakalebara, the chaturdha murti (the union of four deities)—Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan—and Madhaba are replaced with a new set of idols as these are prepared from wooden logs of Neem tree known as Daru Bramha.

While the idols of Sridevi and Bhudevi are prepared in gold and silver respectively, there are no restrictions on replacing the idols.

The temple administration has sat over the decision to replace the Sridevi idol for 42 years now, for reasons best known to them. Now it remains to be seen how sooner the administration wakes up to replace the crumbling gold idol with a new one, which has been idling in Lords’ treasury for ages.

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