Bhubaneswar: A section of servitors from Puri’s Jagannath temple has urged Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to grant permission for low-key observance of annual Rath Yatra amid the restrictions in place for COVID-19.
Daitapati Nijog, an association of the servitors that perform the Rath Yatra rituals, reasoned that the festival had never been cancelled before in the face of crisis be it the two world wars or the Bengal famine.
In a letter to Patnaik on Wednesday, the association requested him to allow the observance of the car festival without the participation of devotees, ten of thousands of whom gather at the temple town every year on the occasion.
“We pointed out in the letter that the Rath Yatra was never called off in the past, no matter what the crisis. It was held during 1866 Great Bengal Famine and also during Bombay Influenza, which continued from 1918 to 1920. About 10 lakh people had died of Bombay Influenza,” said ”Daitapati Nijog” secretary Durga Prasad Dasmohapatra.
The yatra was also held during World War I and II, India-Pakistan war of 1947, 1948 and 1965 and even when pandemics struck before and after Independence, he said.
“Some medieval scripts suggest that during Muslim invasions in the 16th and 17th century, the car festival was forced to come to a halt, and rituals were symbolically observed. Such incidences, however, should not be exemplified,” the letter by the servitors said.
Dasmohapatra said the association has suggested the state government to conduct COVID-19 tests of those involved in performing the rituals.
Devotees should witness Rath Yatra on television on June 23, he said.
Another associate of the ”Daitapati Nijog”, Ganesh Dasmohaptra, said the members will soon meet ”Gajapati Maharaja” (scion of erstwhile royal family) Dibya Singh Deb and Govardhan Peeth Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati to discuss the matter.
Earlier, the Mukti Mandap, the highest religious dispute-resolving body at the 12th century shrine, had said there was no harm if the Rath Yatra was not held this year in the wake of the pandemic.
At the same time, it had also suggested that the government might conduct the festival with limited number of servitors, and in total absence of devotees.
Dibya Singh Deb, who is also the chairman of the Shree Jagannath Temple Management Committee, had earlier clarified that the temple would abide by the guidelines imposed by the central and the state governments.
He had appealed to the Centre and the state to revise the guidelines once the lockdown is lifted, with a view to facilitate smooth conduct of the Rath Yatra festival.
According to sources, Patnaik recently held telephonic discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the matter. The details of the discussion, however, were not available.
Around 10 lakh people congregate in Puri every year for the annual Rath Yatra.