The chariots of the Hindu deities Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagannath at the Gundicha temple during the annual Rath Yatra festival, in Puri, Odisha on Tuesday.(Arabinda Mohapatra/HT PHOTO)
The chariots of the Hindu deities Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagannath at the Gundicha temple during the annual Rath Yatra festival, in Puri, Odisha on Tuesday.(Arabinda Mohapatra/HT PHOTO)

Puri’s Jagannath Rath Yatra goes off smoothly without devotees

The Rath Yatra took place amid several restrictions because of the Covid-19 pandemic and no devotees were allowed to participate in line with a Supreme Court order.
Hindustan Times, Bhubaneswar | By Debabrata Mohanty
UPDATED ON JUN 23, 2020 10:10 PM IST

For the first time in its history, the famous Rath Yatra of Jagannath temple in Odisha’s Puri saw a large number of priests pulling the three colourful chariots as lakhs of devotees stayed away from the festival following a Supreme Court order.

Around noon, about 1,500 priests of the 12th century temple began pulling the three colourfully-decorated wooden chariots towards the Gundicha temple amid beating of cymbals and drums in praise of Lord Jagannath and his siblings- Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra.

The three chariots reached the Gundicha temple by 5.30 pm. All the priests who pulled the chariots - Nandighosh, Taladhwaja and Darpadalana – had tested negative for Covid-19 on Monday.

Gajapati Dibyasingha Deb, Puri’s titular king, who is also the first servitor of Lord Jagannath, carried out the Chhera Panhara, a ritual sweeping of the chariots before they are pulled. Puri Govardhan Peeth Shankaracharya Nischalananda Saraswati paid obeisance to the trinity atop the chariots along with his disciples.

“It’s hard to imagine Rath Yatra without devotees on Badadanda(Grand Road). But Lord Jagannath stepped out of the temple for the whole universe,” said Deb. There is a long-held belief among devotees is that one who pulls the chariot of the Lord gets salvation and is freed from the cycle of births and rebirths.

Till Monday afternoon, uncertainty clouded the Rath Yatra before a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court led by chief justice of India SA Bobde modified its order of June 18 staying the festival to allow it to be held with several preconditions.

The pre-conditions included the absence of any devotees and pulling of the three chariots by not more than 1,500 priests.

After the Rath Yatra ended in the evening, the Shree Jagannath Temple administration said servitors would be rewarded for ensuring its timely completion.

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In the morning, the district administration had disinfected the 2.5 km long road from the main temple leading to Gundicha temple, where the three deities will stay for the next 9 days.

From Monday 9 pm, the police had enforced a curfew around the temple town restricting anyone’s entry or exit for the next 41 hours.

Before the break of dawn, there were a flurry of activities in the temple as rituals like Mangal Alati, Tadaplagi, Dwarpala Puja, Besha Sesha, Rath Prathishtha and Mangalarpana started one after another. It was followed by Pahandi rituals of the three deities and Lord Sudarshan where they were carried by the priests from the main temple to the chariots.

The devotees, who are an intrinsic part of the festival,had to watch in on television but they were not unhappy at missing the action.

It’s all the wish of Lord Jagannath. I am happy with the decision of the Supreme Court. I will see my Lord after the lockdown is over,” said Binapani Mallik, a housewife in Bhubaneswar.

Another senior citizen said he was happy to see the Lord come out of the temple. “After the SC order last week, I had given up hope. But I knew that the Lord of Universe would do a miracle to come out on the road and show his face to his millions of devotees,” said Prabodh Mishra, a septuagenarian.

On Monday, 1,143 servitors of the temple were tested for Covid-19 of which one tested positive. The servitor who tested positive has been shifted to a Covid hospital before the beginning of the Rath Yatra rituals.

After the event, the Puri district administration relaxed curfew in the town.

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