Introduction:

The city of Puri in Odisha has no industries and no big townships or malls, but people throng here from all corners of India and a few places in the world to see the holy temple of Lord Jagannath and the sea. Both the places are consecrated for the Hindus as they take a dip in the sea and visit the temple to see Lord Jagannath, the ultimate God of salvation. The Puri Sea and its beach are different from those found elsewhere across the country. The turbulent water, the ferocious tides and dancing waves are a treat to watch. Tourists enjoy a holy dip in the sea, as well as scores of others enjoy taking a bath countering the fury of the reverse-tide and floating up and down along with gentle and soothing waves.

The most alarming character of Puri sea is:

Thousands of people take a safe bath in sea water daily, excepting a fate-less who invite their doom either for their act of bravery or due to old age or lack of swimming ability which makes them a prey. The most alarming character of Puri sea is the speedy creation of an undercurrent which drains sands of your feet and plunges you into a pit or draws you deep into the sea-bed which gives permanent recluse to human lives. A good swimmer may not be too good to swim in Puri Sea and the technique required is altered altogether. The victims almost always are the visitors or pilgrims and not the local people who know the technique of swimming or countering under-current or a whirlpool danger. As I have been taught and practiced during my childhood and adolescence, one should not resist being caught in an undercurrent as it is irresistible and defeating, but should respect it and go into the sea as far as dragged.

After some distance, one finds no under-current and takes a diversion to a place where the water is still. Then one should select an outgoing wave and tide which the land one to shore. However, this is only an awareness tip and the art needs to be practiced under the guidance of an expert. Today, I saw a report in the local newspaper that as many as 15 persons were drowned during the last three months. The number is alarmingly extensive considering the fact that the state government has taken numerous safety steps by deploying specialized fishermen as coast guards.

A few Home Guards have been deployed in addition. However, where are they in times of need? According to statistics, 20,000 tourists throng into the holy city of Puri every day. Most of them take a bath of sea-water. Causalities are on the increase both for human folly and nature’s fury. With the death toll rising every month, we can easily point a finger at the government for not being sincere in this matter. The coast is not well-guarded and adequate number of coast-guards and security guards is not provided.

Guidelines for safety and security for pilgrims:

A handful of people who are deployed already are hard to be seen when needed most as dereliction in duty coupled with lack of general alertness have compounded the problem. Of course, pillars depicting guidelines for safety and security of pilgrims have been erected. No proper announcement and effective measure is existent. Secondly, tourists being ignorant of the nature of sea, adequate information and announcements should be made for public awareness and caution. A composite area for pilgrims to take a sea bath should be identified which should be kept pollution-free and clean and they should be made to take a bath in the particular area under the active supervision of coast guards and divers.

People should be banned from taking a bath in areas beyond the identified safe areas. Camels, hawkers, dogs, beggars should be refrained from using scarce meters from 'Swargadwar' area to the 'Digbarini' area, keeping the area tidy and comfortable. Above all, employees deployed for the purpose should always be alert and dutiful and any deprivation seen from anybody should be dealt with severely. Human life is precious. A welfare government must consider its duty to protect it.

There should be no panic among pilgrims and visitors:

A sensible government with purposeful actions can save so many lives lost in the deep sea. Above all, we should protect our precious lives by ourselves by not venturing into the sea. The Puri-sea is described as ‘Mahodadhi’ in mythology where people take a dip before visiting the temple of Lord Jagannath. Seen from the perspective of Hindu pilgrims, a complete ban on sea-bath is not possible, but care and caution, coupled with government protection and action can give a guarantee of safety. There should be no panic among pilgrims and visitors as we find that more than 99 percentages of them don’t have to encounter sea-fury.

Conclusion:

If there are stray cases of drowning and deaths, it is due to the ignorance of visitors and their carelessness which can be curbed by general awareness, coupled with safety measures which include among others, not going deep into the turbulent sea, not taking bath at ‘Banki Muhanna’ area where the confluence of river and the sea create heavy current and high tide, taking the help of available experts employed by government while bathing and not taking babies, children and old persons into the sea. It is better to enjoy the beautiful beach and the colorful sea, sitting a few meters away from the waves and taking a palm full of water to satisfy the religious requirements. Water in small quantity is as holy as gallons of it because what are needed are water and not the sea.


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