The upcoming Jagannath Rath Yatra during pandemic is a challenge to the authorities
– By Debi Mohanty
Puri: Confusion continues to shroud Lord Jagannath’s annual Rath Yatra (Charioit festival) in Puri. The much awaited, world famous festival of the deities-Jagannath and his elder brother Balabhadra and younger sister Subhadra, is just over two weeks away. This year Rath Yatra is on June 23.
Though the state administration is going ahead with its plan to hold the event in keeping with the lockdown norms, devotees are dissatisfied. Reacting to the news that devotees may not be allowed to directly participate in Rath Yatra celebrations this year, Bansidhar Sahoo,54, a grocery shop owner in Bhubaneswar, who has visited Puri on this occasion for the last 31 years, reacted angrily. “If government can open markets, allow sale of alcohol, why can’t devotees be there to see the deities on the chariots? It’s illegal and Jagannath will not forgive for such an action,” Sahoo, who claimed that he waits for a year for this day. said.
Another devotee, Ramesh Rout, a retired school teacher in Cuttack offered a different argument. “Government, servitors and all say. Everything takes place as per the will of the lord. Then why the government is clamping its own order?” he asked.
Even a servitor requesting anonymity said, government should allow the devotees for this event. “Since the people are scared of the coronavirus, they would maintain proper social distancing and have a darshan of Kaalia (as Jagannath is fondly called because of his color),” the servitor said. “Jagannath and his siblings come out of the Srimandir so that the devotees who don’t get a chance to get inside the temple can see the deities. So why should we ban devotees?”
However, considering that approximately 1 million people throng the coastal city Puri every year for this event, the coronavirus stipulation’s may not be as easy to follow. “Maintaining social distancing in Rath Yatra is possible on paper only. It’s an electrifying atmosphere, everyone tries to push the other behind to have a glimpse of the Lord. You must remember the number:1 million,” said a shop keeper in Puri.
Puri king Gajapati Maharaj Dibya Singha Deb, the ‘Adya Sevak’ (first servitor) of Lord Jagannath after a meeting of the Shree Jagannath Temple Managing Committee on May 30 had said, Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath can be only held if the state government ensures that no devotees are allowed into Puri Bada Danda. He, however, clarified that the final decision rested with the state government. “Rath Yatra was also discussed at the meeting. The opinion was that Rath Yatra be held as per rules. But keeping in view the situation arising out of COVID, our members opined that it would be inappropriate to allow devotees to participate in Rath Yatra. They proposed before the government that Rath Yatra can be possible in absence of devotees in the Bada Danda with only concerned officials, police force and sevayats and devotees can have darshan of the Rath Yatra in their homes through the media,” Gajapati Maharaj had said.
Meanwhile, 20 coils of coir ropes have arrived at Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) office in Puri. The Orissa Cooperative Coir Corporation Limited (OCCCL) delivered 20 coils of coir ropes used for pulling of chariots, while 14 out of these coils are used for pulling of the three chariots, six are used for cordoning.
It’s to be noted that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in its order on May 30, a day before the ending of Lockdown 4.0 on May 31 extended lockdown in containment zones till June 30 and allowed re-opening of prohibited activities in a phased manner in areas outside containment zones.
Soon after the MHA order, Odisha Government on June 1 issued an order that religious places/places of worship for public and holding of religious functions and large congregations shall continue to remain closed till June 30.