Amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, The Supreme court’s decision to conduct the annual Rath Yatra at Jagannath temple in Puri, Orissa is a welcome decision. The Rath Yatra is an annual 9 day festival conducted in the honour of Lord Jagannath, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. The annual Rath yatra of Lord Jagannath of Puri and the other Jagannath temples across the country has been conducted uninterrupted since 1736. The Puri temple was constructed by King Anantavarman in the 10th century on the site of an earlier temple which is said to have existed since 200 BC. The temple idol is made of wood and replaced every 12 years with an exact replica. The event is marked by a procession of 3 chariots with the main deities from the main temple to the Shri Gundicha Temple along the Bada Danda (Main road).
The Rathas are 45 feet high and are constructed every year for the festival. The deities stay at the Gundicha temple for 9 days, after which they are taken back to Shri Mandir. On the way back, they halt at Mausi Maa temple and prayers are offered along with Podha Pitha as prasad. The 3 deities of the Rath Yatra are Lord Jagannath, his brother Lord Balabhadra and his sister Goddess Subhadra. Devotees pull the chariots for 3 kms across the streets to reach the temple and back. This year, in lieu of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Supreme Court had earlier cancelled the Rath Yatra festival to prevent the spread of the infection. After several pleas from the temple authorities and committees, the festival was allowed to be conducted with strict norms. A city wide strict curfew was imposed by the government in Puri with complete restriction of movement on the day of the event. Along with this, only 500 people were allowed to be present to pull the chariots and all of them had to get tested for the virus. Strict social distancing norms had to be followed by all devotees present along with a one hour gap in between the procession of each chariot. The event was live streamed on Doordarshan channel and on online platforms for the benefit of devotees who could watch it from home. Due to a high number of cases in Ahmedabad, The Jagannath Rath Yatra was cancelled in that city by the Supreme court in public’s interest. The temple which is located near Jamalpur Darwaja, Ahmedabad, Gujarat could not conduct the event which has been conducted uninterrupted for 143 years. Even at Puri, Police and Army personnel were deployed to maintain strict curfew and social distancing.