Noted Italy-born Odissi dancer and Padmashree award winner Ileana Citaristi on Sunday alleged that she was manhandled by two priests of Jagannath temple on the chariot of Lord Jagannath at Puri when she refused to pay them money.
In separate complaints, addressed to Puri SP and temple chief administrator, she said the priests roughed her up when she turned down their demand of Rs 1,000 dakshina. "Two priests wanted to fleece me and demanded Rs 1,000 as dakshina. When I opposed, they nudged me, slapped me and banged my head," Citaristi told.

"When the priests failed to extort money from me, they shouted at me saying I was a foreigner (non-Hindu) and that I cannot climb the chariot. But nobody questioned my religion when I was climbing the chariot. We know that non-Hindus are not allowed in Jagannath temple. But there is no such official restriction on the presence of non-Hindus on chariots outside the temple during Rath Yatra," said Citaristi, who has been staying in Odisha since 1979.

Though curtain came down on the nine-day 
Rath Yatra on July 18, the deities had been giving darshan to devotees atop their chariots outside the temple till Sunday. The deities entered the sanctum sanctorum on Sunday evening.

Shocked at the unseemly attitude of priests, the Italian danseuse, who speaks Odia, alighted from the chariot and approached the temple officials, seeking action against the 'greedy' servitors.

"After lodging the complaint at the temple office, I sent a separate FIR to Puri SP over fax," said Citaristi, who teaches Odissi at Bhubaneswar.

Temple's chief administrator Arvind Padhee said he ordered an inquiry into the unsavoury incident. "I spoke to her and condemned the embarrassment she faced on the chariot. Action will be taken against the erring priests," Padhee said.

The incident rekindled the memory of a similar attack on an American tourist on Lord Jagannath's chariot on the second day of Rath Yatra on June 22 last year. Some temple security guards assaulted the American Noel Magee Hayden, citing the reason that he was a non-Hindu. While temple scriptures are silent whether or not non-Hindus can climb chariots, the temple administration has since not taken any firm decision on the issue. The temple, however, is off limits to non-Hindus. "We referred the matter to Puri Sankaracharya for solution. But we have not received any communication from the seer," Padhee said.

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