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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

A Fight for Uninterrupted Puri Rath Yatra – Cultural, Religious & Emotional Journey

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The SC had issued a stay on this year’s Jagannath Rath Yatra in Puri based on a petition filed by the NGO Odisha Vikas Parisha seeking to stop  the Yatra citing the pandemic Covid.

This NGO Odisha Vikas Parishad, without ascertaining the opinion of the Temple Authorities or understanding the emotions of public files a Special Leave Petition challenging the decision of the High Court of Odisha which had allowed for the Yatra.

This has caused widespread condemnation by devotees across the world, and political parties across party line’s .The Servitors and Custodians of the Temple were taken by surprise since the state govt had not consulted any of them regarding this issue. The Jaganatha Puri Ratha Yatra is not just of religious significance to us Hindus, it is a testimony to our perseverance and courage against the brutal onslaught on us by Islamic and European xtian invasions.

For the past 450 years the Ancient and traditional Puri Yatra has continued unfettered with the exception of 32 years intermittently…  between 1568 and 1735 due to  Islamic invasions. During every invasion the Priests and caretakers of Puri Jagannath have fought back valiantly. They removed the Moorthies from the Temple and hid them until it was possible to bring them back again.

This kind of stead fast devotion should have been taken into consideration by the SC and especially the Odisha Government represented by Harish Salve before such a damaging decision was taken. Salve’s ignorance and apathy about this pilgrimage and the emotion that the Yatra evokes amongst every Hindus was clearly seen when S G Tushar Mehta who was co-counsel with him, sought for some rituals to be allowed, albeit without any gathering. Salve immediately replied that the moment there is a festivity crowds will gather. This single statement from the counsel of the state government, found CJI Bobde agreeing that ppl would gather and led to the final decision that the Yatra be stopped.

Salve’s reaction here is astonishing and his motive highly questionable.

Has the Odisha Government been fooling the Hindus by pretending to allow the Rath Yatra to happen but meanwhile secretly instructing their counsel to weaken the case to conduct the Yatra?

When Additional solicitor general Mukul Rohatgi requested just a day to consult the main custodians of the Temple … this was denied by the SC and opposed by Harish Salve. One wonders if denial to conduct sacred and ancient Temple rituals comes under the preview of the SC or the State Government. How is this possible since religious rites do not come under the scrutiny of secular activity?

It is deplorable of the State Government that neither Puri Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati nor the Maharajah Gajapati Dibyasingha Deb of Puri whose dynasty has historical links with the Temple were taken into confidence.

In fact the Maharaja has said that the State Government seems to have not taken notice of the resolutions passed in Sri Jagannath temple managing committee meeting on Rath Yatra held on May 30.

“Since there is no precedent of Rath Yatra being cancelled when the deities are in Anasar Ghar, it remains unclear how the nitees will be performed in these extraordinary circumstances. A new set of nitees will have to be chalked out for holding Rath Yatra inside the 12th century shrine premises,” he further elaborated.

While the SC issued a stay on the Yatra three petitions have been filed in the apex court on Friday seeking modification of the order and allowing the annual Yatra of the Moorthies back to the Temple. Daitapati Nijog, the chief body of servitors of Sri Jagannath temple, moved a petition for recall of the stay order and allowing the Rath Yatra with adherence to the COVID-19 guidelines. The Shankaracharya has called for Allowing the traditions laid down in the sacred texts and with a limited number of servitors.

“The apex court’s order to protect the people of Odisha from the prevailing coronavirus pandemic should be welcomed. However, it is expected that Rath Yatra be allowed in accordance with the prescribed norms as mentioned in the scriptures and in presence of a limited number of servitors,” said the Shankaracharya.

Meanwhile, Daitapati servitors dubbed it impossible to perform Rath Yatra and associated rituals inside the temple. Senior Daitapati Binayak Dasmahapatra said since all the Daitas are now busy taking care of the Trinity in Anasara Ghar (sick room), they will hold another meeting on ways to perform the rituals. The Daitas, known as body protectors of the Moorthies play a vital role in the annual festival from Snana Purnima to Niladri Bije when Bhagawan along with Balaram and Subhadra returns to the Ratnasimhasan.

“The Government should  not have made any submission without consulting the primary stakeholders, the petitioner maintained and submitted that “the traditions and practices of the temple falls outside the scope of the Government’s purview given that a religious practice is not a secular activity.“

The issue here is that the Odisha Government allowed the first half of the annual ritual to take place knowing full well that the other half of bringing the sacred Moorthies back was crucial for completion of annual rites and rituals.

Is it then possible to conduct and complete the Yatra without causing community spread of the pandemic?

The Daitapatis think it is possible if the State Government cooperates.

The servitor body stated that several additional measures including imposition of total curfew in Puri town for two days before the festival and sealing of its borders to prevent entry of outsiders can be taken for smooth conduct of Rath Yatra without any fear of coronavirus spread.

Live telecast of all rituals and the pilgrimage for devotees will also help keep ppl inside. They said that they have been preparing for the Rath Yatra for months and all the carpenters, black smiths, servitors (sevayats) have been  in isolation for a more than a month. On June 5 they had conducted tests on 800 servitors and all are covid negative

Besides this, 372 carpenters, black smiths and rupakars have been engaged in the construction of three chariots for more than one and a half months with strict compliance to guidelines issued by Centre and the State Government. They further stated that a total of 1034 persons, including 132 Jagannath temple police personnel, have been isolation for more than one and half months to help conduct the Rath Yatra.

They have also said that instead of devotees they can easily use elephants and cranes to pull the Ratha along the 3 km road towards the main Temple. Temple Administration  had already planned for a Rath Yatra without a single devotee or without any gathering by imposing curfew in and around the city of Puri.

So why didn’t Harish Salve Counsel for the State Government infirm the SC in these alternative measures already taken by the Temple Authorities?

If Odisha govt can assemble 5000 ppl at the Bada Danda to sing  VANDE UTKALA JANANI with 5000 ppl during lockdown and ease restrictions during Ramadan why is it that they take such a draconian measures when sacred Hindu festivals come around?

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