Bhubaneswar: History was created today in Puri as Rath Yatra, the annual sojourn of Lord Jagannath and His siblings, concluded successfully amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. It was made possible only because of the commitment of all the State Government officials, servitors and devotees of the Lord.
Cancellation of Rath Yatra by the Supreme Court in view of public health and retracting its decision a day before the scheduled date of its commencement on the condition that it will be allowed only in Puri sans devotees had raised speculations about the smooth conduct of the festival.
However, the State Government was prepared for the inevitable. Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision on the petition of the State Government which changed the total scenario, Chief Secretary Asit Tripathy along with DGP Abhay, on the direction of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, had rushed to Puri to camp there and take stock of the overall situation.
Amidst the ongoing developments, Chief Administrator of Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA), Dr Krishan Kumar, held a meeting of all line departments and directed the officials to be prepared to carry out the orders of the Supreme Court effectively.
On June 22, that is a day before the commencement of Rath Yatra, after the Supreme Court’s nod, the Chief Secretary reviewed the preparedness in which DG Police, Chief Administrator Shree Jagannath Temple Administration, sevayats (temple servitors) along with all the concerned participated.
“I am confident that Rath Yatra will be conducted smoothly tomorrow without devotees with strict adherence to the COVID-19 guidelines. All the related departments are fully prepared. All directions of the Supreme Court will be fully complied with,” said Tripathy briefing reporters.
DGP Abhay informed that police will strictly enforce a form of curfew across entire Puri district from 9 pm of June 22 to 2 pm of June 24. “We have mobilised forces in Puri since Sunday evening. There are two primary objectives – smooth and incident-free movement/pulling of the Chariots from origin to destination and restricting entry of unauthorised persons into that (Bada Danda) area,” Abhay said.
On the same evening, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik appealed to the people to celebrate Rath Yatra with discipline since the entire world would be watching. “We have to set an example to the world how Lord’s rituals can be held by observing social distancing and guidelines with discipline,” he said.
“The State Government and the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) has made all preparations for Rath Yatra. Construction and consecration (Ratha anukula) of the chariots have been completed at the appropriate time. All rituals of the Lord are underway smoothly. I thank the sevayats for that,” the Chief Minister added.
Gajapati Maharaj Dibyasingha Deb acknowledged the role of Supreme Court and efforts of the State and Central governments in making the Rath Yatra possible amidst COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking to media persons after the crucial Jagannath Temple Managing Committee and Chhatisa Nijog meeting, the Gajapati said, “We are grateful to the Supreme Court which is in vacation, but opened to issue an order in this regard.”
“We all must remember that the Supreme Court and State Government reserve all powers to stop the Rath Yatra at any moment if there is any deviation from the conditions associated with conduct of Rath Yatra. Therefore it is very essential for all of us to ensure that all the restrictions and guidelines are strictly followed during the holy event,” the Gajapati said.
Following the Supreme Court guidelines, this year, no more than 500 people including servitors and police personnel who had tested negative for COVID-19 were allowed to pull the chariots. The SJTA had ordered for 5,000 face masks and sanitisers to be distributed among servitors and their family members.
Besides, dedicated health centre was opened for the families of the servitors and IEC campaign led by Puri Collector Balwant Singh was conducted in the city of Puri to educate the families of the servitors. Keeping in mind, the infectious nature of COVID-19, SJTA chief Dr Krishan Kumar urged the public, servitors and their family members to be very cautious to check spread the spread of coronavirus.
DIGP (Central Range), Cuttack, Ashish Kumar Singh, was overseeing all-round security arrangements of the Rath Yatra. It was for the first time the festival started with priests and servitors pulling the three chariots as devotees stayed away from the grand festival.
Addressing media persons after Bahuda Yatra (the return journey), the Gajapati said, “Devotees of Lord Jagannath across the world had prayed earnestly and He obliged them. Their wishes were granted.”
“The arrangements, decision and principles of Centre and State Governments were crucial which made the Rath Yatra possible. Lakhs of devotees have a lot of contribution. They obeyed the regulations, stayed at home and watched the Lords on television. We thank them all for their discipline and prayers,” he added.