Bhubaneswar: A long-cherished historical belief that Mahatma Gandhi never visited the Srimandir as the shrine discriminated against the untouchables was debunked by evidence obtained recently. A century-old document preserved with the family priest of the Gandhis in Puri revealed that the Father of the Nation had not only gone inside the temple March 27, 1921 (Sunday), but also recorded his appreciation of the visit in the Daskati (family dairy) preserved with the local priests of the Gujuratis.
The visit took place when Gandhi first visited Odisha in 1921, much before his Harijan Padayatra in Odisha took place in 1934. Gandhi’s overt aversion to visiting Srimandir came in 1937 when he was at Belaboi near Delanga in Puri district. From Delanga, some members of his entourage including Kasturba, Mahadev Desai and Mrs Desai came to Puri to pay their obeisance to the deities, which Gandhi later resented. Bapu reportedly believed that Ba and others would go to Puri to see the sea and come back without going to the temple.
Gopinath Gochhikar, grandfather of Raghunath Gochhikar, a serving priest at the temple now, had taken Mahatma inside the temple and helped him take a round of the shrine. It is mentioned in the Daskati that Bapu had also gone inside the sanctum sanctorium and bowed down before the Lord.
Though a staunch Hindu, Mahatma never approved untouchability. He strongl advocated for entry of untouchables (Sudras) to temples. However, the Puri visit had taken place long before his Harijan movement took place.
History made us believe that the famous Jagannath temple at Puri was a ‘no go’ place for Mahatma as the latter was steadfastly opposed to the shrine’s policy that only orthodox Hindus are allowed inside. Bapu came to Odisha eight times, but never visited the temple except for the very first time in 1921.
As Odisha is celebrating 100 years of Mahatma Gandhi’s maiden visit to the state in March 1921, this little fact of his life has come to the public domain now. “We are the family priest of the Gujuratis. My grandfather had taken Bapu inside the temple and the Mahatma has recorded his appreciation of the system inside the temple in our family record,” said Raghunath Gochhikar, grandson of Gopinath. Raghunath, however, was sore that this fact of history has not been properly recorded and generations of people still believe that Gandhi never visited Srimandir.
Sisir Mishra, OP