Kolkata, India: Lord Jagannath’s world-famous Rath Yatra kicks off today in the Indian state of Odisha’s Puri as COVID second wave is yet to fully wane.
This is the second year the hundreds-of-years-old ritual of ferrying the holy trinity is being carried sans devotees.
But never has it happened that the festival was fully canceled, and was even conducted during the 1918 Spanis Flu.
To ensure that the Rath Yatra runs smoothly, extensive security precautions have been put in place, Odhisa state authorities have said.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, the Rath Yatra in Puri will be held for the second year in a row without the participation of the general public.
The Supreme Court of India initially banned the public event last year citing the horrors of a superspreader event, and saying that Lord Jagganath won’t forgive if the public were allowed amid the pandemic.
Last year, the decision to scrap general public participation in Rath Yatra which usually occurs in hundreds of thousands was taken when India was amid the first wave.
However, the ritual was allowed to happen without the devotees (although media reports showed some worrying scenes) since once halted, th ritual can only begin after 12-long years.
The chariot pulling is set to begin this afternoon when the gajapati maharaja Dibyasingha Deb performs the “Chhera pahanra” ceremonies that lead to the deities adorning their individual Raths, according to an AIR correspondent.
The Raths, which are usually pulled by thousands of devotees in front of lakhs of others, will be pulled only by the temple servants this time, and only those who have been tested negative for covid-19 for public health reasons.
Approximately 8000 persons, including servants, security and media professionals, and district administration officials, have already passed an RT-PCR test in order to attend this huge festival.
The holy city of Puri has enacted anti-congregation legislation that is also anti-covid legislation.
Even though the annual rath yatra is taking place in the shadow of the pandemic, devotees can still see Lord Sri Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, and Devi Subhadra as their grand chariots, Nandighosa, Taladhwaja, and Darpadalana, roll down majestically along the Grand Road from Sri Jagannath temple to Shri Gundicha Temple.
Puri’s Jagganath Rath Yatra represents the country’s plural and inclusive character, according to the Indian Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, and has enormous spiritual value for the participants, he said.
Due to the unprecedented scenario that India and the rest of the world are experiencing as a result of Covid-19, the Vice President has appealed to everyone to celebrate the Rath Yatra celebration with utmost care while adhering to Covid safety rules.
He hoped that the religious and lofty ideas linked with the Rath Yatra would bring peace, harmony, health, and happiness into our lives.