On Sunday, the festivals of “Chandan Yatra” and “Akshaya Tritiya” would reportedly be held at the Jagannath Temple in Puri, Odisha, without any presence of devotees due to the lockdown imposed in the wake of the Wuhan Coronavirus outbreak. The rituals would be conducted by selected priests and servitors within the premises of the temple. The decision regarding the same was taken on Friday night by the Jagannath Temple Committee.
The festival of Akshaya Tritiya marks the beginning of the chariot construction for “Rath Yatra.” It is organised, each year, at the Rath Khala while the Chandan Yatra is held in a sacred tank in Puri. According to researcher Bhaskar Mishra, images of deity are floated on a boat and is held for 42 days in two different phases.
But, due to the lockdown restrictions and the Coronavirus pandemic, the temple authorities have decided to organise the rituals for the two festivals within the temple premises. It is important to mention that the temple had been closed for devotees ever since the lockdown on March 22.
The Shankaracharya of the Jagannath Temple, Swami Nischalananda Saraswati, had also made it clear that while alternate arrangements can be made, the centuries-old-tradition cannot be stopped. The temple authorities had thus met the district collector to decide about the place within the temple premises where the rituals could be organised.
Uncertainty about Rath Yatra of Jagannath Temple
The fate of the annual Rath Yatra that is organised every year for the past 284 years is shrouded in obscurity. The festival that draws over a million devotees and spectators are scheduled to take place on June 23 this year. The temple authorities have said a decision on whether or not it can be conducted this year will be taken after the Coronavirus lockdown is lifted on May 3. Reportedly, chariot construction can only begin after all restrictions are removed.
Puri Gajapati King Dibyasingha Deb said, “It is up to the Central and state governments to take a call on whether to hold only a token Rath Yatra, in the presence of just servitors (priests) and officials, or none at all. We shall wait for the revised guidelines to be issued after the lockdown is lifted on May 3 before deciding on the issue.”
Pre-emptive lockdown in Odisha
Keeping in view the coronavirus scare, Odisha government had earlier decided to extend the lockdown until April 30, becoming the first state to extend the lockdown which was scheduled to end on 14th April. Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik had requested the central government not to start train and air services till April 30. He had also said that all educational institutions will remain shut till June 17.
Odisha TV has quoted CM Naveen Patnaik as saying: “During the ongoing lockdown period amid COVID-19 crisis, your discipline and sacrifice have provided us the strength to fight coronavirus. We have decided to extend the lockdown period in Odisha till April 30, said CM Naveen Patnaik”.