Mystery of Puri temple’s missing keys: Oppn tries to corner BJD over 2018 inquiry report

The Orissa High Court’s recent direction seeking the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government’s reply to the status of a judicial inquiry commission report pertaining to missing keys of the inner ratna bhandar (treasure house) of the Puri Jagannath Temple has triggered the latest attacks by the Opposition, which has been demanding that the report be made public.

Hearing a petition filed by Puri-based social activist Dilip Baral, the High Court on April 25 directed the Chief Secretary and Law Secretary to submit the government’s response on the matter. The next hearing is scheduled on July 10.

The Opposition has since taken on the BJD, with senior BJP leader Pitambar Acharya saying that the state government should tell the public about the steps taken based on the report’s findings. “Why is the state government not opening the inner chamber even after the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in an affidavit to the Orissa High Court mentioned that urgent repair work is required? People also raise doubt over the safety of the precious ornaments stored in the ratna bhandar,” said Acharya.

Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) media department chairperson Ganeswar Behera said, “Since the ASI, the custodian of the shrine, has mentioned the need for repair of the ratna bhandar, the government should immediately open it so that the ASI can take stock of its safety and take up repair works.”

Behera added that the BJD government had “further fuelled the doubt about the safety of the ratna bhandar by not making the report of the inquiry commission public”. He also demanded a fresh inventory of valuables in the treasure house as there is mystery about the quantity and the condition of the precious ornaments stored there.

The ratna bhandar of the 12th-Century shrine has an outer and inner chamber. The outer chamber has three keys and is opened regularly to fetch ornaments for the sibling deities during the Suna Besha – a key ritual during the annual Rath Yatra and other events. The three keys of the outer chamber are in the custody of the erstwhile royal family of Puri, which looked after the temple affairs for generations, along with the Shri Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) and Bhandar Mekap, the servitor who looks after the treasury. The contents of the inner chamber — whose keys have been missing — are not in public domain. According to reports, the last inventory of ratna bhandar was done between May 13 and July 23, 1978. Though it was opened again on July 14, 1985, no fresh inventory was done.

Following a direction from the High Court, an attempt was made on April 4, 2018, to open the inner chamber for its physical examination by an expert team from the ASI. Their attempt did not succeed owing to the unavailability of the keys. The inspection was done from the outside.

A day later, the Puri district administration, the custodian of the keys of the inner ratna bhandar, said the keys were missing. This led to state-wide outrage. Two months later, on June 4, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik ordered a judicial inquiry headed by Justice Raghubir Das, a retired High Court judge, to probe the circumstances leading to the mysterious loss of the keys.

Days after the commission was formed, then Puri Collector Arvind Agarwal told media on June 13 that an envelope with “duplicate keys of inner Ratna Bhandar ” written on it was found in the record room of the collectorate. The authenticity of the keys has yet to be ascertained by the administration.

Though the commission submitted its 324-page report to the state government on November 29, 2018, the state government has yet to reveal details of the findings of the report. According to provisions of the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, the state government should submit the report in the state assembly along with an action taken report (ATR).

When contacted, Justice Das said the reports were submitted by the state government and SJTA during the course of the investigation, adding that “every detail” has been mentioned in the report. “It will not be appropriate for me to reveal the details to the media,” Das told The Indian Express.

While Odisha’s law minister Jagannath Saraka refused to comment on the issue, a senior government official said the government would submit its views to the High Court on the issue.

On December 7, 2021, the law minister at the time, Pratap Jena, informed the Assembly that nothing had been decided in order to open the inner treasure of the ratna bhandar. As per the provisions of the Jagannath Temple Act, 1955, a special order from the Odisha government was required to open the inner chamber of the treasure house.

According to an Assembly reply given by Jena in April 2018, the Ratna Bhandar had 12,831 bhari (one bhari equals to 11.66gm) of gold ornaments with precious stones and 22,153 bhari of silver utensils as per the list prepared by the temple administration after in the 1978 inventory. There were certain other ornaments which could not be weighed during the inventory process.

A source said the government would play safe in the matter, considering the sentiments associated with the Jagannath Temple. BJD spokesperson Lelin Mohanty said the ratna bhandar had not been opened since 1985. He also appealed to Opposition parties to refrain from indulging in politics on the matter.


  • Adam Gray

    Adam Gray is an experienced journalist with a passion for breaking news and delivering it to the masses. With over a decade of experience in the field, he has covered everything from local stories to national events, earning a reputation for his accuracy, reliability, and attention to detail. As a reporter, Adam is always on the lookout for the next big story, and his dedication to uncovering the truth has earned him the respect of his peers and readers alike. When he's not chasing down leads, Adam can be found poring over the latest headlines, always on the lookout for the next big scoop. Contact [email protected]

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