The Rath Yatra in Puri will be held next month without the attendance of devotees and under strict Covid protocols. This will be the second year in a row when the pandemic will cast its shadow on the celebrations that draw lakhs of visitors every year to the coastal town in Odisha.
Odisha Special Relief Commissioner P K Jena said only servitors who have received their vaccine shots and test negative for Covid will be allowed to take part in the rituals. All guidelines the Supreme Court issued last year will have to be followed while observing the rituals, he added.
“This year also, Lord Jagannath’s Rath Yatra will be held sans devotees in Puri. The administration has prohibited similar celebrations in other parts of the state,” Mr Jena was quoted as saying by news agency PTI. “Curfew will be clamped on the holy town on the day of Rath Yatra. All restrictions imposed during last year’s event will remain in force,” he said.
The Special Relief Commissioner said the nine-day festival will be held as per schedule and “just about 500 servitors will be allowed to pull the chariots during the period”.
He added that devotees can see the festivities live on television and webcasts.
District collector Samarth Verma said Puri is still clocking about 300 Covid cases every day.
“Only essential and emergency services will be allowed during the festival. Vehicular movement to and from Puri will
be restricted,” he said, adding that work to build the chariots has reached its final stages.
The Rath Yatra marks the annual journey of Lord Jagannath and his siblings, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra, to the Gundicha Temple about 2.5 km away, which is believed to be their aunt’s house.
Three massive chariots, each with 18 wheels, are built every year to take the deities on their journey.
Last year, in the wake of the pandemic, the Supreme Court had initially stayed the celebrations. Later, it modified the order and allowed the rituals to take place without the attendance of devotees and with several restrictions in place.