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“Rath Yatra : How Madhusudan Das Saved Jagannath Temple of Puri”

How Madhusudan Das saved Jagannath temple from British hands and handed it to Puri Maharaj Gajapati

by Amodh Bardhan

On the auspiscious day of “Ratha Yatra”, also known as Car Festival of Lord Jagannath, Puri, I am sharing this True incident of how, despite being a Christian, Madhusudan Das, had saved the Jagannath Temple of Puri.

In 1885 the Raja of Puri Sri Dibyasingh Dev was transported for life being convicted in a murder case. The then Government instituted a civil case against the Raja for taking over possession of the Puri Jagannath temple. The Dowager Rani Surjyamani Pattamahadei challenged this as the mother guardian of minor Raja Mukund Dev. Mr. Madhusudan Das, though was a Christian, defended the Rani in this case for the protection and preservation of age old sanctity of the Puri Jagannath temple and the Raja of Puri who is held in great esteem by the entire Hindu world and who performs the most important work, the Chhera Panhara (brooming of the Lord Jagannath Rath) before the beginning of Rath Yatra ceremony.

The Rath Yatra ceremony of Lord Jagannath would have lost its sanctity and historicity of Utkal connected with this ceremony would have been affected very much. The lower Court however gave the decree in favor of the Government. Therefore, the District Judge appointed a receiver to take over the possession and management of the temple.

Madhusudan Das went to Calcutta to consult the eminent Barristers of that time about this case. Three eminent Barristers Gurudas Banerji, Evans and Woodruff whom Madhusudan Das showed the records advised him not to proceed further in that case as they saw no chance of the defendants success in the High Court. Despite this disappointing advice, Madhusudan Das did not lose his faith in God. He himself prepared the case briefings and printed the papers at his own cost and thereafter consulted some other Barristers who gave opinion.

Then an appeal was filed in the High Court. A Division Bench which heard this case had set apart three days for appellants lawers to argue the case. The Judges who heard the case were simply charmed by the brief and effective style of the argument. The Barristers told the Court that the praise for this brief and argument was mainly due to Madhusudan Das, a young lawyer from Cuttack. The Judges were much pleased with Madhusudan Das and invited him to an evening party where he was introdued to other judges and eminent persons of Calcutta. Immediately after that the Lt. Governor of Bengal invited him to the Government House for having compromise with the Rani over the Puri temple affair.

In 1988 a deed of agreement between the Raja of Puri and the Government was made. ‘Utkal Gaurav’ Madhusudan Das had won a great victory for the Jagannath temple and Puri Raja holding high traditional honour and dignity of the historic Temple of the Hindu world.

In Kolkata, Madhusudan Das came in contact with Christian Missions and embraced Christianity in the year 1869. What impressed Madhsudan Das most about Christianity were the words, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ To him human nature could not rise higher than that. He became a devout Christian, but he also was aware of the social milieu in which he had been brought up. He was thus socially and culturally close to his roots. Primarily he was an Indian, and therefore he never alienated himself from the common man of Odisha for whom he fought and bled. As President of the All India Christian Conference at Allahabad in 1915 Mahusudan Das’s extempore speech defines what he means by Christianity. As a Christian he believed that the duty of an Indian Christian was to see himself as a part of the nation.

Amodh Bardhan
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