Is Lord Jagannath’s Snana Yatra Sans Devotees, The Acid Test For Holding Rath Yatra?

Bhubaneswar: Should the arrival of 20 coils of coir ropes at the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) office in Puri today evening be considered as a signal enough that Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath will be held on June 23?

The Orissa Cooperative Coir Corporation Limited (OCCCL) today delivered 20 coils of coir ropes used for pulling of chariots at the temple office.

While 14 out of these coils are used for pulling of the three chariots, six are used for cordoning.

Doubts have been cast over the holding of the world famous Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath also known as car festival in view of the highly contagious killer COVID-19 global pandemic and the ongoing nation-wide lockdown to contain it remaining in force till June 30.

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 before the announcement of extension of lockdown by the Centre while briefing the media had said that Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath can be only held if the State Government can ensure that no devotees are allowed into Puri Bada Danda. Deb had 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.

He had also said that the managing committee has decided to continue to keep the temple closed for the public till Niladri Bije rituals of Lord Jagannath even if the lockdown is lifted.

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.

Under the MHA’s guidelines for phased re-opening (Unlock 1.0) in areas outside containment zones, in phase I religious places/places of worship for public will be allowed from June 8 with stipulation to follow standard operating procedures (SOP) to be prescribed by Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW).

The MHA guidelines has clarified under phase III that based on the assessment of the situation re-starting of activities like religious functions and other congregations will be decided.

The MHA guidelines have however, allowed States/UTs to prohibit certain activities outside the containment zones or impose such restrictions as deemed necessary based on their assessment of the situation.

Basing on the above clause of 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.

Recently during a press briefing, Puri Collector Balwant Singh was evasive in his reply to a query from a reporter whether the holding of Rath Yatra was being pushed into uncertainty in view of the new COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the Central and State Governments.

“I would not like to make any comment on that. In my opinion a decision on that will be taken at an time appropriate at an appropriate platform. I would certainly wish that the emotions and sentiments of devotees are taken care off and law is adhered to,” Singh said.

However, construction of chariots for the Rath Yatra is in full swing and the progress made so far is even better as compared to previous years despite a delayed start of work.

So under such circumstances, tomorrow’s holding of Snana Yatra of Lord Jagannath without devotees amid police bandobast successfully without any untoward incident shall be the forerunner and acid test for the holding of Rath Yatra this year without devotees.

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