Vikash Sharma

Puri: Amidst the uncertainty surrounding the conduct of several rituals and Puri Rath Yatra in view of the coronavirus outbreak, the Puri Srimandir servitor body, Chhatisa Nijog today proposed for a scaled-down conduct of the famous chariot festival.

In a letter to Puri Shankaracharya, Janardan Pattajoshi Mohapatra, Chief Servitor & Chhatisa Nijog Nayak proposed for a scaled-down Rath Yatra in a controlled environment. Anticipating that a lockdown could be in place during Rath Yatra (scheduled to be held on June 24, 2020), Mohapatra urged the Puri seer to consider the proposal.

In his letter, Mohapatra highlighted that Rath Yatra has been conducted under all circumstances since time immemorial (including the last pandemic) and the tradition has never been hindered with the only exception during the Islamic invasion of the temple when the Lord Jagannath had to be relocated to a different location. (Since 1736, Rath Yatra has been organized uninterruptedly).

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“There is no record of commencement of Rath Yatra and as per the records of Sri Mandir, Shree Jagannath and his nine-day yatra are inseparable and therefore one must not mistake the annual nine day Rath Yatra as a mere festive procession that can be cancelled or postponed,” wrote Mohapatra.

The Chhatisa Nijog has also suggested several proposals for conducting the Rath Yatra by following all norms laid down by the government amid the COVID19 outbreak.

The proposals include:

1. Personnel involved in slicing the timber to be used for the construction of chariots should be tested for COVID19

2. For the construction of chariots which is scheduled to begin from Akshay Tritiya (April 26), 10 main Maharanas (carpenters), 60 Bhai-puas (assistant to carpenters), 6 Bhois, 3 Kamaras (blacksmiths), 3 Rupakars (designers), 3 Chitrakars (painters) and 1 Karati (saw-man) will be deployed. All these personnel may be tested in advance and kept in isolation for carrying out the work.

3. The personnel and servitors who take part for the pre-Rath Yatra ceremonies should be tested and kept in isolation as per the suggestion of the Health department.

4. All the servitors and Mutts involved in Rath Yatra should be identified and given identity cards. The Shree Jagannath Temple Administrator may lay down instructions for strict compliance on their movement from now onwards.

5. All the servitors and police personnel (nearly 1500) involved in pulling of the chariot on Rath Yatra day should also be tested for COVID19 in advance and kept in isolation. They may be tested again before Rath Yatra and allowed to enter the street on the festival day.

6. All the servitors of the temple should be issued strict instructions neither to host any visitor in their house nor allow members of their family to remain on streets during Rath Yatra period.

7. All the hotels, guest houses and Mutts in and around Puri should be instructed not to take any bookings and host any pilgrims or visitors during the entire period of Rath Yatra.

8. The State government may make an announcement to the effect that Rath Yatra will be conducted with absolutely nil-participation of public and strict penal provisions for entering Puri during Rath Yatra.

9. All the inward and outward movement from Puri should be banned in advance.

Meanwhile, a final decision regarding Rath Yatra will be taken after a high-level meeting with Puri Shankaracharya today evening. Earlier today, Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik had discussed the COVID-19 situation and the conduct of Rath Yatra with Prime Minister Narendra Modi over telephone.