All options including allowing the Rath Yatra without the attendant crowd of devotees are on the table.
Days after the managing committee of the 12th century Jagannath temple in Puri decided to go for the construction of the three chariots used during the world-famous Rath Yatra, the Union ministry of home affairs allowed the construction with certain conditions including observance of social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The ministry said no religious congregation must take place at the Ratha-Khala (where the chariots are built) as it is a workplace and not a public place accessible to the general public. The MHA asked the state to ensure complete segregation of the Ratha-Khala from the adjoining Grand Road and other properties by erecting a cloth-partition wall.
However, the MHA said the decision regarding the holding of Rath Yatra has to be taken by the State Government after assessing the coronavirus situation.
Earlier, the state government had sought permission from the Centre for the construction of chariots during the lockdown period.
A few days ago, Puri king Gajapati Dibyasinghdev had backed the making of chariots as a construction activity, which is allowed in all Covid-19 zones. Gajapati Dibyasinghdev heads the managing committee of the 12th century temple.
The Rath Yatra, scheduled on June 23, is the most important festival in Odisha, attended by over million devotees who throng Puri town for the 10-day long festival. The temple doors have been shut since March 20 due to the pandemic. Only day-to-day rituals are being done by the temple priests.
The state government is still in a fix over holding the festival as Covid cases in the state are surging with 34 new cases reported on Thursday taking the state tally to 219. The option to hold the Rath Yatra only in the presence of policemen and temple priests is also being considered. However, the government is not sure about deploying 5000 policemen for pulling the ropes and cordoning off the area, when the cops will be required elsewhere for maintaining the lockdown. The government is also apprehensive of a surge in Covid cases if devotees are allowed to congregate in Puri.
If the car festival is not held this year, it would be the first time in the last 284 years. In the 425 years of the car festival, the event has been scrapped 32 times, mostly during invasions. It was scrapped for the first time in 1568 when Kala Pahad alias Kala Chand Roy, a general of Bengal king Suleiman Kirrani attacked the temple and pillaged the deities.