rath yatra
source: https://www.thequint.com/

Introduction

Neither the birds fly nor sit on the dome of the temple unlike any other temple nor has any plane ever flown above it.

Rath Yatra which is also known as Chariot Festival attracts thousands of devotees and visitors each year. The Jagannath Rath Yatra is an old age tradition where three giant chariots made of neem wood are pulled by devotees. Lord Jagannath is regarded as the Supreme God and the sovereign monarch of the Odisha temple. It is said that those who take part in this festival “earn their passage to heaven”. Jagannath temple is not attractive only for the Lord Jagannath’s sculpture, but also for its unique architecture and beauty. It is a festival of equality and integrity.

Impact of COVID-19 on Rath Yatra

On 18th June, the Supreme Court said Rath Yatra cannot be allowed due to COVID-19 pandemic for the well-being of the citizens and for the benefit of the public health and that “Lord Jagannath won’t forgive us if we allow it.” The center supported the Odisha government. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the center said – “it is a matter of faith for crores. If Lord Jagannath will not come out tomorrow, he cannot come out for 12 years as per traditions.” Odisha’s government said that Rath Yatra took place all over in Odisha but it can be limited to Puri without public attendance and the government will take all the necessary steps and precautions while conducting Yatra.

Final Decision of the Supreme Court

Finally, on 23rd June, the Supreme Court bench comprises of the Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and A.S. Bopanna keeping in mind the sentiments of all the odias, it honored the faiths of Jagannath devotees across the worlds by allowing the Jagannath Yatra festival only in Puri and nowhere else in Odisha with certain restrictions without public attendance. It was proposed by the Gajapati Maharaj of Puri, who is the chairman of the Puri Jagannath Temple Administration.

The Supreme Court bench came to an end with “if it is possible to ensure that there are no public attendees, we see no reason why the Rath Yatra cannot be conducted safely along its usual route from temple to temple.”[1]It is the first time in the history that Rath Yatra was held without the participation of devotees. The Rath Yatra was live telecasted for everyone to seek their blessings.

Guidelines by Supreme Court

On 23rd June, as per the guidelines of the Supreme Court, the Odisha government imposed a 41 hours curfew in the temple town of the Puri from 9 p.m. Monday till 2 p.m. Wednesday. All the entry points to Puri were sealed to avoid the public attendance to adhere to the social distancing rules. 50 platoon forces were mobilized in Puri since Sunday evening to restrict the entry of unauthorized people into the grand road and CCTVs were also installed at various places for security purposes.

The temple complex was sanitized fleetly before the rituals began. Coronavirus test was conducted as per the order of the Supreme Court for all the priests (sevayats) at Jagannath temple. Only one was tested positive, and the rest of them were found negative and were allowed to pull the chariots and participate in the rituals. The night before Rath Yatra various inspections were done by the government officials. The huge crowd was present outside the iconic temple, dressed in colorful possessions for the occasion.

Traditions and Rituals followed

According to the traditions, the three lords were brought out of the temple like every year on the second day of the third Hindu month of Asadha to their chariots which is accompanied by the ‘Sudarshan Chakra’. This ritual is called ‘Pahandi’. As per court judgment, the Odisha government and the administration of the Jagannath temple were responsible for the innocuous performance of the festival. The Lord Jagannath and his siblings were boarded at the Raths. Prior to Pahandi, morning rituals of Arati, Avakasha, Rosa homa, Surya, Dwarapala Puja, Sakala Dhupa, Mangal Arpana, Doralagi, Puspanjali and Tuli offering, Mailam Lagi, unfastening of deities and preparation for Pahandi was conducted inside the temple premises.

First Priest took the idol of Lord Balabhandra to their chariot (Taladwaja), and then followed by Goddess Subhadra to their chariot (Darpadalan) and then Lord Jagannath to their chariot (Nandighosh). But several photos and videos show that priests were standing very close to each while holding the Lord Jagannath idol to the chariot. There was a clear violation of social distancing. The enchanting symphony of gongs, blowing of Kahali, the clang of the ghanta, and the beating of the ‘Telingi Baja’ in a unique rhythmic movement slowly rising to an upsurge.[2]

The ‘Chhera Pahanra’ ritual

Even a large crowd was seen when King of Puri, Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb performed ‘Chhera Pahanra’ ritual by sweeping the chariots with a gold broom. This denotes equality. It shows that everyone is equal whether he is a King or a normal person. When all these rituals were going on sevayats were playing traditional musical instruments and dancing to the beats. They performed their traditional dance known as Gotipua. As per the court orders, the social distancing was to be followed, but there was a huge crowd present surrounding the Rath when Lord Jagannath idol was mounted on it.

The Chariots were moved by the sevayats on the ‘Bandha Road’ in Puri towards the Devi ‘Gundicha Temple’. The temple was situated about 3 km away. This Rath Yatra is also known as the Shri Gundicha Yatra. As per guidelines, only 500 people were allowed to pull the chariots, and also those who will be engaged in Yatra has to follow social distancing before, during, and after the Rath Yatra.

But, if we go through various photos, videos, news, etc. more than 500 people were there, some were not wearing masks and people were standing very close to each other while pulling chariots. During the Chariots pulling, only a few servitors were atop the chariots to maintain social distancing. The process of pulling the chariot symbolizes the purification of the mind and the act of surrendering to the Supreme.[3]

Greetings from the Government

PM Narendra Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind, West Bengal CM Mamta Banerjee, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and several other celebrities extended their greetings on twitter. A total of 5,569 Covid-19 samples were collected last week from Puri town. According to the health department, 12 positive coronavirus cases were founded.[4]

The final rituals

According to the rituals, the deities return from their Aunt’s house (Gundicha Temple) in Puri on the ninth day of Rath Yatra to the Lion’s Gate entrance of Jagannath Temple. This is known as Bahuda Yatra. All the same, rituals were being followed as in Gundicha Yatra. The sweeping ritual ‘Cheraphara’ was performed by the King of Puri Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb. As per tradition, the three chariots were pulled by the servitors. Police personnel came one after the other towards south from the entry gate parking. And, they were also stationed at the exit gate of Gundicha temple, known as ‘Nakachanadwar’.

The chariot of Devi Subhadra was pulled first followed by the ones of Lord Balabhadra and Lord Jagannath. Like Rath Yatra, Bahuda Yatra was also held in the same manner. It was conducted keeping in mind the guidelines given by the Supreme Court. Curfew was imposed in the entire district from 10 p.m. on June 30 to 10 p.m. on July 2. No devotees were allowed to take part in the rituals. Only those who were tested negative for coronavirus were allowed to participate. Suna Besha is a custom that was held on the Ekadashi Tithi. The deities, who were still on their chariot got decorated with gold ornaments.

Then, on the Dwadashi Tithi, the Gods and the Goddess were offered a special drink. It is made of cheese, milk, sugar, and other ingredients. This is called Adhara Pana. On Trayodhashi Tithi, the deities enter the Puri temple from their respective chariots. This ritual is called the Niladri Bije. Subsequently, the Lord gives darshan to the devotees from the Garbha Griha. And finally, the famous Rath Yatra came to an end. Around 70 platoons of police personnel were deployed in Puri for the smooth conduct of the event.[5]

Final Thoughts

Chakravyuh was the only thing that became the demise of Abhimanyu, in a similar fashion the Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra event, though fruitful came with a price that eventually puts the government and people on shame because a mere one corona positive case multiplied to 12 positive cases. Though an event of grandeur, the event packed notoriety. This was the Chakravyuh the government could not get out of.


Author:

divya omer Divya Omer | Amity Law School, Noida


References

[1] https://theprint.in/judiciary/supreme-court-allows-jagannath-rath-yatra-but-only-in-puri-and-with-restrictions/446608/

[2] https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/jagannath-puri-rath-yatra-2020-live-updates-1691757-2020-06-23

[3] https://www.india.com/news/india/jagannath-rath-yatra-2020-puri-live-updates-4065505/

[4] https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/odisha-jagannath-rath-s-return-journey-bahuda-yatra-begins-12-test-positive-in-puri-1695798-2020-07-01

[5] https://www.asiancommunitynews.com/puri-jagannath-rath-yatra-2020-pahandi-of-holy-trinity-begins/

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