Bhubaneswar: Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik held discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday over organising Lord Jagannath’s Ratha Jatra in Puri this year, as the centuries-old religious event plunged into uncertainty following the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The chief minister spoke to the prime minister over the phone on Friday morning and discussed about organising the annual Ratha Jatra of Lord Jagannath,” a source in the Chief Minister’s Office told PTI.
Patnaik apprised the prime minister of the COVID-19 situation in Odisha. The state has so far reported 90 coronavirus cases, while 33 patients have recovered from the disease and one has died.
Patnaik informed the prime minister that about 10 lakh devotees assemble in Puri to celebrate the mega festival every year, sources said.
“They discussed on how to maintain social distancing when a large number people will gather in the pilgrim town for the Ratha Jatra celebrations,” they added.
The festival is scheduled on June 23 this year.
“The discussion over organising the Ratha Jatra this year assumes significance as the annual religious event has been held uninterrupted since 1736,” Bhaskar Mishra, a researcher in Jagannath Culture, said.
Opposition parties in Odisha — the Congress and the BJP — have urged the state government to take a decision on holding the Ratha Jatra at the earliest.
According to the schedule, the work for the construction of the chariots should begin on April 26, while the famous “Snana Yatra”, the annual ceremonial bathing ritual of the deities at the Shree Jagannath temple, will be held early June.
The 12th-century shrine in Puri has remained closed for devotees since March 22, though the temple rituals are being followed by the priests as usual.
Earlier, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government in the state had suspended the Rukuna Ratha Jatra, the annual festival of Lord Lingaraj, this year due to the ongoing nationwide lockdown.
Meanwhile, the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) has started discussions with Govardhan Peeth Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati and Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb.
“The managing committee of the Shree Jagannath Temple held a meeting on the issue on Friday and the final decision will be taken in accordance with the views of Shankaracharya,” Ramachandra Dasmohapatra, a member of the body and servitor, said.