The core strengths of Puri economy are its pilgrim, tourism, handicraft and unique cuisine. Governments have to lay impetus on developing it both as a tourist town and a spiritual capital.
- Sudhansu R Das
The Odisha government is out to develop the pilgrim town Puri into a world-class heritage centre by 2022 with a massive budget of Rs 800 crore. The mega Heritage Corridor Project aims to beautify the temple surrounding. The large open space created in front of the main temple has seat outs, makeshift gardens and lighting arrangements etc. The plan is afoot to redesign Puri Konark road with dedicated cycle track, beverage points, sidewalks, and eateries points and toilets etc. Beautification work, roads, bridges, parking space, hotels, malls and restaurants will no doubt make life pleasant for the tourists. But it will not sustain tourist and pilgrim flow unless the core spiritual, cultural and economic strength of Puri is restored.
Puri attracts millions of pilgrims every year from all over the world due to the grand Jagganath temple, the car festival, miles long golden sand beaches, forest, exotic handicrafts, local cuisines, hundreds of heritage sites, folk art and craft traditions etc. Today the pilgrim centre seems to have lost its soul. The priceless Odissi paintings made on the inner walls of the Lord Jagganath temple and the Maha Lakshmi temple are being replaced by substandard paintings. The classical Odissi paintings can never be recreated by the present generation artists. But, those paintings can be preserved with scientific methods with the help of genuine painters. If some portion of the paintings are damaged, the remaining parts can be very well preserved for the future generation Odissi painters so that they could learn the art.
Every stone idols and paintings in the temple should be documented which will help in the preservation of the temple sculptures. The idols which were distorted during the renovation should also be documented digitally. The Maha Lakshmi temple inside the temple premises is one of the most beautiful temples of India. Its outer walls were once adorned with magnificent stone carvings and the inner walls had exotic Odissi murals. Today the temple is distorted beyond recognition.
The stone panels with fine carvings are peeled out in many places. Many sculptures are missing from their cases. It’s a big challenge before the ASI and the State government to preserve the priceless treasure of the Lord Jagganath temple. The politicians and bureaucrats should seek the advice and participation of genuine senior artists while restoring the temple art. No ordinary artisans and painters should be allowed to repair the art work. This is high time to engage honest and sincere officials with deep knowledge on the art tradition and a sense of belongingness to the Indian culture. Odissi murals and sculptures are the souls of the temple which should not be destroyed by the contractors and middlemen. The authority who have allowed the replacement of the original paintings with substandard paintings should be penalized as they have done irreparable damage to the temple art.
The core strengths of Puri economy are its pilgrim, tourism, handicraft and eatable sectors. Its mouth-watering sweet items namely Rasogola, Rabidi, Rasabali, Malpua and Gaja etc are cherished by visitors. The villages surrounding the Puri towns supply milk for the production of sweet dishes in the pilgrim town. The specially made sweet items can be easily marketed in domestic and global eatable markets.
The cyclone Fani has devastated the diary sector, coconut, cashew and banana plantation. The Balukhand sanctuary which was famous for deer, cheetah and monitor lizard was worst hit by the cyclone. Unless the state government revives the diary, forestry, fishery, horticulture sectors, its paddy field and vegetable orchards, the state cannot arrest migration of villagers to Puri town for menial jobs. The ambition to make Puri a world heritage centre is linked to the creation of jobs in multiple sectors in villages.
The nature has blessed Puri with miles long golden sand beach which was once bordered with casuarina jungle. Narrow pedestrian paths crisscrossed one another in the deep green casuarina forest. It was looking as good as Kashmir with deep forest, golden sand and the sea which was widely known as the Kalinga Sagar in ancient India. Forest worked as shield against a cyclone. There was no Fani type cyclone before 2012. Until 1990, the sea beaches had dense forest cover which were replaced by hotels, ugly concrete structures and purposeless projects. Every year four-five hotels are constructed on the beach. Nobody bothers to learn from experience.
Frequent cyclones destroy the economic assets in the region. There is an urgent need to address the root cause of cyclone by raising a forest shield of five-kilometer wide in the entire coast. The development project should be prepared after dedicated and meticulous research. It should be state-specific and should not be based on spurious development plans of other states.
Governance in Puri has to improve before making it a world-class pilgrim centre. It is very difficult to book an Ola or Ubar taxi from Puri to Bhubaneswar or Cuttack due to monopoly of the local taxi operators. One has to depend on the hotels for booking the taxi at a higher cost. The economy class hotels and Dharmasalas in Puri need to improve cleanliness in order to attract pilgrim tourists. The authority should inspect accommodation regularly to ensure cleanliness. Both Indian and foreign tourists should be informed about the environmental rules and tourist code of conduct at the time of arrival. Anybody found throwing plastic bags, beer and cold drink cans on the beach should be penalised. The local authority should be trained how to monitor the beach physically and through CC camera.
The proposal to build a dedicated cycle track from Puri to Konark is region-specific as it would boost tourism and local economy if a safe atmosphere prevails. The folk dance like Naga dance, martial art, solapit work, patta chitra, mask making, Odissi dance, seashell work, applique, tassar painting and palm leaf carvings and soft stone carvings should get back its original grace and artistry. The wrestling tradition of Puri should be revived as it once had kept the youth engaged in physical development. Development of Puri needs the involvement of senior residents, active participation of educated people and the will of anti-hero politicians who will undo the wrong. Puri is one of the spiritual capitals of India which can prevent greed from affecting the human race.
The French astrologer, Nostradamus has predicted a man from the east will rise from his seat to eliminate the corrupt and evil forces across the world. Nostradamus seems to have referred the living God, Lord Jagganath of Puri as the man from the east. It is also written in the ancient temple document “Malika” that Lord Jagganath is the Kalki Avatar who will emerge from his seat to save innocent people. This is high time for the people and politicians to save the spiritual capital.