It is often questioned if Mahatma Gandhi was an ardent devotee of Lord Jagannath.
While many believe that Gandhi never visited the Jagannath Temple in Puri in his entire life due to his discontent over the ‘restriction’ on entry of dalits into the temple, a few researchers have now cleared the air.
As per an evidence-based research on Mahatma Gandhi by writer Gouranga Charan Parida, Gandhi used to give example of Lord Jagannath while speaking on national unity. In his book, Parida mentions how Gandhi cited the example of ‘nondiscrimination’ inside Puri Shreemandir while addressing Indians at a conclave in South Africa and called upon them to discard any kind of discrimination on religion, caste and class and unite as Indians.
Gandhi had also mentioned the same in his newspaper ‘Indian Opinion’. In an article published in the newspaper on August 29, 1904 with title ‘The Uses of Adversity’, Gandhi described the Lord as the epitome of cultural integration.
During his visit to Puri on March 27, 1921 for a conclave, Gandhi visited the Shreemandir along with his wife Kasturba and other family members. After paying obeisance, he had signed in the devotees’ register and expressed how he felt immensely blessed to have darshan of the deities.
However, Gandhi could not accept the fact that dalits were not allowed to enter the temple. The “Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi” Volume 66 mentions that since Gandhi had expressed his discontent over the ‘discrimination’ at the temple, a senior servitor of the temple attended Gandhi’s conclave held at Beraboi village in Puri district and told Gandhi that he was misinformed about the temple.
Stating that Harijans (dalits) were also in the service of the Lord inside the temple, the servitor invited Gandhi to visit the shrine with dalits. However, Gandhi could not get time to visit the temple since it was his last day in Puri. After that, he never visited Odisha.