The Odisha government has directed all 30 district collectors in the state to prohibit the use of ganja at all Shiva shrines across the state, triggering a controversy.
Official sources said the Odia Language, Literature and Culture (OLLC) department issued a directive on May 10 to take steps to prohibit the use of the contraband based on a request by spiritual guru and social reformer Baba Balia. The letter came to light on Tuesday.
Offered as prasad at some Shiva shrines in the state, ganja has long been associated with religious significance in the region. It is also consumed as prasad by devotees.
Even as the state government’s decision evoked a negative reaction from the servitors of some Shiva shrines, OLLC minister Aswini Patra justified the decision. “Like animal sacrifice has been prohibited in Bhagabati Temple at Banpur and other popular shrines across Odisha, there is also a need to prohibit the use of ganja on the premises of Shiva shrines. Accordingly, we have issued an order and asked district collectors to implement it,” Patra told The Indian Express.
The OLLC minister said not just Shiva shrines, the use of any kind of contraband within temple premises needs to be checked and prohibited.
Baba Balia, who is also a Padma Shri awardee, appreciated the Odisha government’s decision. “We had written a letter to both the Union government and the Odisha government with a request to prohibit the use of ganja in Shiva shrines. I am thankful to the Odisha government for considering the request. Ganja has numerous negative health hazards,” said Baba Balia.
Servitors of the 11th-century Lingaraj Temple, however, said Ganja is not offered to the deity at the shrine. Bijay Kumar Das, chief servitor at the Akhandalamani Temple at Aradi in Bhadrak district, said ganja or bhang is used in the bhog during the ‘gharsana’ ritual of Lord Shiva as per tradition, which is later offered to the devotees. “It’s a century-old ritual in our shrine. We will hold consultations as to what can be done,” said Das.
Meanwhile, senior Congress leader Suresh Routray, who is a devotee of Lord Lingaraj, termed it an “unnecessary order”. “The government should take steps so that rampant consumption of ganja on shrine premises can be checked. But a complete ban is not right as ganja is used in bhog of Lord Shiva in many shrines,” he said.
Former Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP Tathagata Satpathy, who had earlier called for legislation on cannabis consumption in Lok Sabha, also condemned the Odisha government order. “Culture Dept, Gov’t of Orissa has banned marijuana in Shiba mandirs. Demonstrates highly regressive and anti Oriya posturing Administrators of today do not know what is Oriya culture! Strongly condemn this notification and demand immediate withdrawal,” tweeted Satpathy.