The recent announcement of the Special Relief Commissioner (SRC) on the conduct of Rath Yatra in Puri this year has come as a relief to devotees across the globe. The second wave of Covid-19 has spread sadness and suffering all over our country. With the crisis slowly receding, people are looking forward to the joy and hope that Jagannath Rath Yatra brings. With happiness comes sorrow, for the Rath Yatra will happen only in Puri and nowhere else in Odisha.
Rath Yatra is special in Jagannath Puri. Rath Yatras happen in many temples across the country. In temples usually the mobile representation of the deity comes out on the Rath, and not the Lord himself. Jagannath Rath Yatra is unique, as this is the only festival where the main deity himself comes out of the temple. The Agama texts are ancient scriptures that guide rituals and administration of temples. Rath Yatras in other temples last a few days and are meant for public welfare, according to the Agamas. The agamas go on to mention a Rathyatra lasting 9 days like Jagannath Rathyatra is meant for the welfare of the very Gods themselves. The Pancharatra Agama and the Niladri Mahoday are clear that Jagannath Rath Yatra is mandatory as it is meant for the welfare of the universe itself.
Scriptures apart, the intense devotion the Jagannath Rath Yatra evokes is unimaginable. Last year Rath Yatra was in the midst of the first wave. Covid-19 was a new and terrifying disease we knew much less about. A vaccine had not yet been discovered. The administration was concerned that conducting Rath Yatra could spread Covid-19 in the state. In a historic decision at the very last moment, the Supreme Court of India in a leap of faith based on science, decreed a Covid-19 safe Rath Yatra could be done. The administration heroically rose to the occasion, managing all arrangements for a Covid-19 safe Rath Yatra in the last few hours. With the bare minimum servitors who were tested and proven clear of Covid-19 infection, a Covid safe Rath Yatra was possible.
The Chief minister led devotees for the first time in history staying away from Puri and watching the Rath Yatra on television at home. It was Jagannath’s blessings that enabled Odisha to conduct a Covid safe Rath Yatra with no major incident of Covid-19. This experience was put to good use in the recently held Rukuna Rath Yatra of Lingaraj Mahaprabhu in Bhubaneswar this year. This year with vaccination actively going on all over Odisha, the hope for a Covid-19 safe yatra is stronger.
Devotees shall once again hope to catch a glimpse on television of Jagannath on his annual yatra. Jagannath it is said plays out his divine leela in ways that we can identify with. His holiday and His dealings with His divine spouse Mahalakshmi draws devotees closer to him, for here is a lord that can behave in ways to win over all our hearts. For the Covid-19 patient who faced death and won and his worried family faith in higher powers is what kept them going. Devotees throughout the state will pray for all the loved ones they lost this year to Covid, this Rath Yatra. Festivals of faith and devotion far from being irrational and administratively bothersome, uplift people out of their mental depression. This rejuvenates society as a whole to emerge stronger in facing crises like Covid-19.
Many a devotee who silently hoped that Jagannath Rath Yatra would happen in all famous temples of Odisha are left disappointed. Baripada with its long tradition of Rath Yatra will be deprived of the honour of Devi Subhadra’s chariot being pulled exclusively by women this year. The world’s tallest Rath at a height of 72 feet will not come out in Keonjhar this year. The second tallest Rath of Baldewji in Kendrapara will also not come out this year. With the experience gathered from conducting Covid safe Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra and Rukuna Rath Yatra, a question remains unanswered. Is it not possible to conduct Covid safe Rath Yatra in the other famous ancient Jagannath temples in Odisha?
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author is an Orthopedic Surgeon and also happens to be a member of the Covid-19 medical advisory team to the Chattisa Nijog Nayak of Jagannath temple, Puri. He can be reached at email@example.com)
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