The Meghalaya High Court has ordered police to arrest the headman and the priest of the 500-year-old Nartiang Durga temple in Meghalaya's West Jaintia Hills district if they create problem during Durga puja rituals.
The order came on a petition filed by villagers, after a midnight clash broke out at the temple that left several locals and policemen injured.
The single bench, which heard the matter on Tuesday, directed the district administration to ensure puja festivities "continue in a peaceful and pious manner" as per the desire of the people of the village.
The villagers, numbering around 900, also submitted a resolution to Deputy Committee Garod LSN Dykes on Tuesday, informing that they have decided that the Puja at the temple be conducted by Oni Maskut Deshmukh, a permanent priest of the temple.
In his order, Justice Sen said, "The DC and SP of West Jaintia Hills District are hereby directed to ensure strictly that the headman should not bring his own priest and create law and order problems. If the headman and the priest, Swappon Bhattacharjee, or any other person unnecessarily create problem, they should be put behind bars to ensure that Puja is performed in a pious and proper manner".
During the hearing, the counsel for the petitioners informed the court that puja was underway peacefully till 10.30 pm on Monday when the headman brought Bhattacharjee. The headman's action led to strong protests from devotees, who attacked the group led by the headman.
Justice Sen noted that replacing the priest was in total violation of the court order issued last week.
The court has also directed the DC, SP and the headman of Nartiang village to be present on November 1.
The two warring devotees claimed ownership to perform the rituals soon after the death of the head priest Uttam Desmukh in March this year.
The Durga temple situated at Nartiang village is looked after by Deshmukh Brahmins, who were brought there by the Jaintia kings from Maharashtra many centuries ago.
An elder of the village told reporters that the clash took place two hours before the Durga puja rituals started on Monday night.
He said two groups started attacking each other with sticks, embers, stones and sand forcing the police to spring into action.
A senior district official said normalcy returned to the temple and everyone is cooperating with the court order.
Additional deployment of police personnel at the temple have also been made, according to SP L Syiem.
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