The Ratna Bhandar, the treasure trove of Puri Jagannath temple, continues to remain a mystery for the people. There is doubt whether the Lord’s valuable ornaments are intact or missing over a period of time. With the Odisha Assembly and the Lok Sabha polls approaching, the BJP has again brought the issue of reopening the Ratna Bhandar to the forefront.
According to a statement given by the Odisha government in the Assembly, the Ratna Bhandar was last opened in 1985 but the latest inventories of the valuables were made in 1978.
Until 1985, nobody had seen the inner chamber of the Ratna Bhandar, which was divided into two parts. The outer chamber is regularly opened and ornaments are taken out by the priests on festivals.
As per an order of the Orissa High Court, there was an attempt made to open the inner chamber of the Ratna Bhandar on April 4, 2018. But it could not be opened as the temple administration could not find the keys. The officials, servitors and experts, who went inside the Ratna Bhandar, had to return from the outer chamber.
But the administration did not make it public that the key was missing until the matter was raised in the managing committee meeting two days after the attempts were made to open the Ratna Bhandar.
Interestingly, after some days, following a hue and cry, all of a sudden the Puri district administration claimed that a duplicate key of the Ratna Bhandar was available. Where did the duplicate come from and where has the original key gone? It created a lot of confusion among Lord Jagannath’s devotees across the country.
Later, the Justice Raghubir Das Inquiry Commission on the Ratna Bhandar was set up and Justice Das had submitted the final report to the state government in November, 2018. The Commission report has not yet been placed in the Assembly.
With this background, there has been a demand for reopening the Ratna Bhandar for a long time. During his visit to Odisha in December last year, BJP national president J.P. Nadda had raised the issue and targeted the BJD government. He had asked about the missing keys of the Ratna Bhandar of the Jagannath temple. The BJP chief had also alleged that the BJD government had failed to protect the valuable gems and assets of Mahaprabhu Jagannath.
On different occasions, the party has demanded the reopening of the Ratna Bhandar, which is also reportedly in need of some repairs. Not only the BJP, several opposition parties including the Congress, Puri King Gajapati Dibyasingha Deb and many senior servitors of Puri temple have also urged the Odisha government to reopen the Ratna Bhandar, and undertake the repairing work and inventory of the valuables of Lord Jagannath.
Chhattisgarh Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan has also demanded reopening of the treasure of the temple. However, the state government did not pay any heed to the demand.
With no option in hand, the BJP knocked at the doors of the Orissa High Court very recently. Admitting a petition filed by the former president of the Odisha BJP Samir Mohanty, the High Court, on July 5 served notices to four persons on the opening of the Ratna Bhandar of the Shree Jagannath temple.
“Though 45 years have passed, the government has not reopened the Ratna Bhandar. When the Puri king and Jagannath devotees across the world are waiting to know whether the valuables of Jagannath are safe in Ratna Bhandar, the government is in deep sleep,” alleged Mohanty.
The BJP leader said he has moved the HC and the court has taken it seriously. The next hearing is set for August 7.
When media persons recently asked about reopening of the Ratna Bhandar, Law Minister Jagannath Saraka said, “We do not know whether the keys of Ratna Bhandar have gone missing or not. The matter is now before the Orissa High Court. The state government will take necessary steps after examining different aspects as per the directive of the court.”
In 2021 then law minister Pratap Jena informed the Assembly that the Ratna Bhandar was opened in 1978. At that time, it had more than 12,831 ‘bhari’ of gold and 22,153 ‘bhari’ silver (one bhari equals 11.66 grams).
The storehouse had 12,831 grams of gold ornaments with expensive stones and other valuables. Similarly, 22,153 grams of silver with expensive stones, silver utensils and other valuables were found.
However, 14 gold and silver items could not be weighed during the inventory process for various reasons. During the process, the value of the items was not assessed, the Minister had said in his written statement.