Puri Shankaracharya, priests want SC to review stay on Rath Yatra

This is the first time that the Rath Yatra would not be held in the last 285 years.
Chattisa Nijog, the apex body of priests of the Shree Jagannath Temple, too urged the state government to approach the Supreme Court. (HT photo)
Chattisa Nijog, the apex body of priests of the Shree Jagannath Temple, too urged the state government to approach the Supreme Court. (HT photo)
Updated on Jun 19, 2020 09:37 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Bhubaneswar | ByDebabrata Mohanty | Edited by AshutoshTripathi

Upset over cancellation of Rath Yatra by the Supreme Court in view of Covid-19 pandemic, several priests of the Jagannath temple, including Puri seer Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati, on Friday insisted that the top court reconsider its decision on the festival.

“The cancellation of Rath Yatra is not correct. The SC can allow the deities to get on the chariots. However, the congregation of the devotees should be banned and the festival be organised with limited servitors and police. The festival can be telecast live,” said Saraswati, a day after the apex court stayed the annual car festival at Puri.

On Thursday, a three-judge bench, headed by chief justice SA Bobde, said as 10-12 lakh people may congregate in Puri for the Rath Yatra scheduled to be held on June 23, it would be appropriate in the interests of public health and safety of citizens to restrain the government from holding the Rath Yatra.

This is the first time that the Rath Yatra would not be held in the last 285 years. The last time the car festival could not be held was between 1733 and 1735 when Mohammed Taqi Khan, deputy governor of Odisha, attacked the Jagannath temple, forcing the shifting of the idols to Ganjam district.

Chattisa Nijog, the apex body of priests of the Shree Jagannath Temple, too urged the state government to approach the Supreme Court.

“It seems that the Supreme Court was not properly apprised of the preparations made by temple administration and the Odisha government for the June 23 Rath Yatra. The Centre had allowed chariot construction for the festival, and accordingly all arrangements were made, with carpenters and servitors made to undergo health screening from time to time. With just four days to go before the festival, the state government should immediately move the apex court seeking a modification of its order,” said Janardhan Pattajoshi Mohapatra, the chief priest of Chattisa Nijog, in a letter to chief minister Naveen Patnaik.

In Puri, two organisations — Srijagannath Sena and Srikshetra Suraksha Bahini – today called for a dawn-to-dusk shutdown in protest against the cancellation of the Rath Yatra. Members of the two outfits also staged protests in the town, claiming that the state government did nothing to facilitate the annual car festival.

While the opposition BJP and Congress said everybody have to abide by the Supreme Court order on Rath Yatra, senior BJP leader Bijay Mohapatra said the state government’’s role will remain under “suspicion” after the sudden cancellation of the biggest festival of Lord Jagannath.

“It is a fact that there is fear of the pandemic and all the people without any condition support the state government’s steps to fight against the virus. All rituals of the deities, including Snana Yatra (Bathing ritual), on June 5 were completed with strict adherence to the guidelines. The servitors also provided full cooperation and offered to undergo Covid-19 test during the construction of the chariots,” Mohapatra said.

Congress MLA Suresh Kumar Routray said the state government is responsible for the stay on the Rath Yatra.

“I cannot tolerate such development. You (state government) have broken the century old tradition... What have you done? Lord Jagannath will never forgive you (state government),” said Routray in a choked voice.

However, senior BJD leader and government chief whip Pramila Mallick said there is no conspiracy. “Who will give the guarantee that the disease will not further spread when lakhs of people congregate during the annual festival,” she said.

Meanwhile, two petitions have been filed in SC seeking review of the order. One Laxmidhar Biswal of Puri district moved the Supreme Court on the ground that the apex court had not consulted the Shankaracharya before announcing the order.

Biswal proposed to the chief minister that the Odisha government should promulgate an ordinance to celebrate the Rath Yatra like the one done by Tamil Nadu government on Jallikattu.

The first intervention application filed by the Jagannath Sanskruti Jana Jagarana Mancha seeking a recall of the Supreme Court order said that the Odisha Vikas Parishad did not cite the Orissa High Court order of June 9 in which the HC had not stayed the rath yatra, instead leaving it to the state government to decide “whether or not to hold the rath yatra on June 23.”

It said the Snana Purnima ritual was performed on June 5 with the help of 800 servitors and all of them had tested negative in Covid-19 tests. The 800 servitors are in isolation for more than one month as of today, the petitioners said.

As per the High Court order, 372 labourers were allowed to be engaged in the construction of the 3 raths for more than one and a half months. All of these labourers are in isolation and were found to be Covid-19 negative.

It also said thousands of people in Puri municipality had gathered on the road connecting Puri Jagannath temple to Gundicha temple on May 30 by maintaining social distance for singing the state anthem.

The Manch said the June 18 order be modified so that the Rath Yatra can be performed by 500-600 servitors by maintaining a social distance on the three-km road stretch.

Another intervention application seeking a partial modification of the SC order was filed by Aftab Hossen, a resident of Puri, which argued that crores of rupees have been spent in construction of the chariots and Covid-19 tests of hundreds of servitors. The intervenor said after the June 18 order, people of Odisha are feeling hurt and that the Court should allow the conduct of the yatra with participation only from servitors and temple police, without the general public playing a role in it.

Hossen further petitioned that it is important to celebrate the festival as there is “scientific evidence” that the weather becomes pleasant when Lord Jagannath is brought out of the temple.

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