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The Supreme Court Monday permitted devotees to access the sanctum sanctorum of Kolkata’s Kalighat temple to pay obeisance to the deity.

An Supreme  court bench of Justice Deepak Verma and Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya cleared the decks for the entry of devotees into the sanctum sanctorum after it stayed the April 20 order of the Calcutta High Court that had banned the entry of devotees to the ‘garbha griha’ (sanctum sanctorum).

While staying the high court order, the Supreme Court observed that in south India, devotees were not permitted in the sanctum sanctorum, as they had a concept of ‘darshan’, whereas in north and east India, there was a concept of ‘puja’ and touching the feet of the deity.

The stay of the operation of the high court order was till the further orders of the court, the judges said.

The court, however, said that the Kalighat temple committee would follow the high court direction on maintaining cleanliness in the temple.

Senior counsel Ashok Bhan, appearing for the central home ministry, told the court that they had no objection to devotees entering the garbha griha. “We are not opposed to the entry of devotees to the garbha griha,” Bhan told the court.

Senior counsel for the Temple Committee Rana Mukherjee told the court that even the prayer in the public interest litigation before the high court was limited to regulating the entry of devotees and not barring their entry as had been done by the high court.

Justice Mukhopadhaya inquired how were people offering their obeisance in the 157-year-old Dakshineswar Temple, also located in Kolkata.

When the court was told that people were not permitted in the sanctum sanctorum of the Dakshineswar Temple, Justice Mukhopadhaya told the counsel that only two days back a newspaper carried a photograph of two people standing in the sanctum sanctorum.

The judges inquired how could the high court pass an order that was at variance with the scheme formulated by the apex court in 2006 on giving access to the devotees to the sanctum sanctorum in various temples.

The court said that the “high court could not alter, modify or add to the apex court scheme”.

When the counsel for the original petitioner before the high court said that devotees were often cheated by ‘pandas’ posing as priests, the court observed that if that was happening then it must be happening at the time when devotees stood in queues leading to the sanctum sanctorum.

The apex court Tuesday issued notice to the central and West Bengal governments on a petition by the Kalighat temple committee challenging the high court order banning the entry of devotees into the sanctum sanctorum and allowing only two priests at a time.

The petition said that it had strong prima facie case and would suffer an irreparable loss if the interim order of the high court was not stayed.

The high court passed its order after hearing a public suit seeking directions to the temple committee to ensure that the temple in general and the sanctum sanctorum in particular was kept in a clean state.

The high court directed the temple committee to make arrangements that the offerings made by the devotees were credited in the account of the temple and not appropriated by the priests.

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