To convince people to stay indoors and follow quarantine norms for containing the transmissibility of COVID-19, the Odisha government has tried to invoke the Odia religious tradition by highlighting how Lord Jagannath quarantines himself in "Anasar Ghar" (isolation room) before the annual Rath Yatra.
Home quarantine may be the new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic across the globe but the practice has been in vogue in Lord Jagannath Temple here since time immemorial.
"The example of Lord Jagannath's quarantine is well accepted by the people and keeps them inside the house. The state government has also coined a slogan saying 'Ghare Rukantu Sustha Ruhantu' (stay home. Stay healthy)," Odisha government's chief COVID-19 spokesperson Subrato Bagchi said.
He encouraged people to go for isolation after testing positive for COVID-19, saying "Anasar" (quarantine) was an intrinsic part of the Odia culture and tradition.
Quarantine means restricting the movement of the afflicted so that the infection does not spread to others.
According to mythology, Lord Jagannath, and his siblings, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra developed a fever after they were given a bath with sacred water contained in 108 pitchers on Snan Purnima day. Thereafter, the three deities of the 12th-century shrine were taken to 'Anasar Ghar' where they underwent treatment and recovered after 14 days.
This practice is observed for 14 days before the annual Rath Yatra every year.
"The state government emphasises that if one tests positive for COVID-19, the person must remain in quarantine for at least 14 days. Even the master of the universe (Lord Jagannath's name Jagat means universe & Nath means master) quarantines himself when he falls sick," Bagchi said.
Bhaskar Mishra, a researcher in Shree Jagannath culture, said the sibling deities also take ayurvedic medicines to recover from the illness. Therefore, the people who suffer from any disease should be administered medicine for speedy recovery instead of leaving it at the mercy of God.
"There is no such record since when the practice of Lord's quarantine, called 'Anasar' ritual, is being practiced in the temple. But it has been going on for ages, giving a message to the human race to take the illness seriously," Mitra said.
Incidentally, the Lords 'Chaka Bije Niti', a ritual marking an improvement in the condition of the sibling deities, is being held in the Temple on Sunday on the occasion of Dasami Tithi.
In this ritual, the deities are placed on three wheels along with Lord Sudarshan and Madhab, said Sarat Mohanty, a servitor-cum researcher in the Jagannath culture and tradition.
As per the rituals, the deities are offered "Chakata" and "Pana Bhoga" (ORS like prasad to overcome dehydration).
Mohanty says that during the Lords stay in Anasar (quarantine), some rituals are performed by some selected servitors in the closed room.
A special oil called phuluri tel is applied to the deities and for the complete recovery of the deities, "Raj Baidyas" (royal doctors) prepare a special herbal medicine.
This medicine will be offered to the Lords on "Ekadasi Tithi" on Monday. After this ritual, the deities are believed to be completely cured, Mohanty said.
Pratihari Sevaka, a special servitor in the temple, Surya Narayan Gochhikar, said that the ailing deities are offered only fruits and water, mixed with cheese and "Dasamula" (herbal) medicines while Daitapati Sevayats perform secret rituals to cure them.
He said that the deities completely recover from illness after a two-week-long herbal treatment following which they are ready for the annual Rath Yatra, which falls on July 12 this year.
When the deities remain in "Anasar Ghar", the devotees are allowed to have darshan of "Patti Dians",(representatives of the Lords in patachitra painting).
Before going out for the Rath Yatra, the deities are given a touch-up and given a fresh look just as a person does after recovering from an illness, Mohanty said.