Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Puri, Mar 12:
The Culture department of the Odisha government today sanctioned Rs 25,000 for the treatment of nonagenarian Sashimani Devi, the last surviving Devadasi of the world-famous 12th century Shree Jagannath Temple in Puri, who has been seriously ailing for the last few days.
“Sashimani Devi is known as the Mahari sevika (servitor) of the Lord. After we came to know about her illness, we came to her house today and gave Rs 25,000 to her family members towards her treatment. The Culture department and the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration provide monthly allowance to her. But as we have profound love and respect for her, we came to meet her today. We pray to the Lord to let her live for a few more years,” said Culture secretary Arabinda Padhee after meeting Sashimani here today.
“Her condition is very bad for the last four to five days. We are really worried about her,” Sashimani’s foster daughter and eminent Mahari exponent Rupashree Mohapatra said.
Despite being the last of the rare service providers to the Lord, the nonagenarian has faced gross apathy from the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA).
Bed-ridden since last eight years, Sashimani survives on a meagre monthly allowance Rs 2,000, which is not enough to meet even her food expenses, let alone her medical expenses. While SJTA provides her with a monthly allowance of Rs 1,000, the Culture department’s district unit provides her with another Rs 1,000. Her foster son Somanath Panda meets her food bill with this Rs 2,000 somehow but has to ask others for help to meet her treatment costs.
“While crores of rupees is being spent for the forthcoming Nabakalebara Yatra of the Lords, no one is bothered to spend an extra farthing on this lone remaining mortal wife/servitor of the Lord,” observed a senior priest who preferred anonymity.
She is considered the human consort of Lord Jagannath as she was ceremonially married to the deity and became a Devadasi while she was only seven.
As a Devadasi, Sashimani’s duties include dancing before the Lord and singing the Geeta Govinda.
Like any other Odia married women, Sashimani too wears new clothes, bangles and sports vermilion on her forehead and observes Sabitri Brata by fasting for the well-being of her ‘husband’ Lord Jagannath.
The decline of the Devadasis — or Maharis as they are known in Odisha — is believed to have started in 1955, with the state government taking over the temple administration of the Jagannath Temple from the royal family.