Puri: This year’s Rath Yatra came to an end Saturday with the reinstallation of Lord Jagannath and his siblings Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra at the sanctum sanctorum of Srimandir in the Holy City.
However, the annual mega festival, which was organised without the congregation of devotees in the wake of Covid-19 outbreak, has added a new chapter to the Srimandir history, said many researchers and locals.
According to researchers, the presiding deities of Srimandir had been shifted out of the shrine several times in the past due to frequent attack from hostile elements. Consequently, the annual Car Festival of the deities could not be held for several years.
However, the annual mega event was once organised inside Srimandir secretly in the past. “For the first time in the history of Srimandir, the Rath Yatra, Bahuda Yatra, Suna Besha and Adharapana rituals were held on the Grand Road without the congregation of devotees. Devotees as well as the people of Odisha would remember this year’s Rath Yatra forever,” said a researcher.
Srimandir, the abode of Lord Jagannath, was shut for people towards the end of March this year due to the outbreak of novel coronavirus. The ‘Rath Anukula’ ritual was performed on Srimandir precincts on the occasion of Akshaya Trutiya April 26. However, the chariot construction work could not be carried out due to the lockdown.
After much hiccups, the chariot construction work started May 5, at least 12 days behind the schedule. The Centre had given conditional approval for chariot construction at Rath Yard. But, it had authorised the state government to take a call on holding the mega festival by assessing the Covid-19 situation.
The Orissa High Court also put the ball at the state government’s court while disposing some petitions seeking cancellation of Rath Yatra.
In the meantime, the Shree Jagannath Temple Managing Committee and many servitors’ associations of Srimandir pleaded for the organisation of Rath Yatra without the presence of devotees on the Grand Road.
However, the Supreme Court ordered for the cancellation of Car Festival due to Covid-19 while hearing a petition June 18. The Apex Court’s order created a lot of resentment among the devotees and Srimandir servitors.
Gajapati king Dibyasingha Deb, Puri Shankaracharya Nischalananda Saraswati and many Srimandir servitors demanded organisation of Rath Yatra with Covid-19 restrictions. Several petitions were filed with the Supreme Court seeking modifications to the Apex Court’s June 18 order on Rath Yatra.
The state government also filed an affidavit in the SC and supported Rath Yatra with restrictions in place. Finally, a three member bench of the SC at 4 pm June 22 allowed conduct of Car Festival in Puri.
With just a few hours in hand for the mega festival, the state government pulled out all the stops to hold the festival amid the pandemic June 23. At least three ministers, the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police reached the Holy City to supervise the arrangements.