Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra : The world famous Rath Yatra, which is a grand scale religious procession, takes place annually in India. However, this year, the coronavirus pandemic has dampened many events, including the Rath Yatra.
On 18th June, 2020, the order that came from Supreme Court stayed the annual Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra of Odisha, as per the petition filed by the Odisha Vikas Parishad NGO. “Lord Jagannath will forgive us if we stay the Rath Yatra this year. In the interest of public health and safety of citizens, Rath Yatra cannot be allowed this year.” Said the three-judge bench, which was headed by CJI Sharad Arvind Bobde.
Since then, several petitions have been filed to modify this order. A single judge bench will hear the petitions today.
The central Government had advised that the Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra can take place this year too, but without public participation. The Shree Jagannath Temple priests too are in favor of conducting the religious procession without any participation of devotees. BJP leader Sambit Patra too does not agree with the court’s decision to stay the Rath Yatra and has filed a plea to modify the order an allow the Rath Yatra to take place, as scheduled on 23 June this year. The centre and State Government too have given a green light to the idea.
The Gujarat High court too stayed the Rath Yatra, which was to begin on 23 June 2020. The Rath Yatra had taken place every year since 1878, and this will be the first time it will be stayed. Around one lakh people participate in the Yatra in Ahmedabad. Major concern regarding the safety of people led to the decision of staying the Yatra this year.
What does Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra Mean for Hindus?
The mass gathering which occurs during the Rath Yatra is enormous. In 2019, around 6 Lakh people participated in the religious procession on just one of the ten days of the procession. Jagannath means "lord of the world" and is the form of Hindu gods Krishna/Vishnu/ Rama worshipped in Odisha.
Proper social distancing and measures are not enough to stop the virus from spreading in such extreme situations. The religious fervor in people is intense, and can result in the formation of new epicenters, due to mass spreading of the virus. In 2019, 10,000 security officials were appointed considering the mass gathering that takes place during the religious congregation. Triads are usually worshiped in the sanctum of the temple at Puri, but once during the month of Asadha (Rainy Season) they are brought out and travel 3 km to the Shri Gundicha Temple, in huge chariots (ratha), allowing the public to have a glance of their God.
The Odisha Vikas Parishad NGO in its petition highlighted the spread of coronavirus that happened after the Tablighi Jamaat in March. Many people from India, along with tourists attended the Jamaat, which was held in Delhi. The congregation resulted in mass spreading of the coronavirus by March end and by the first few weeks of April many cases linked to the Jamaat was reported from every corner of the country.
This very fact sparks fear in the minds of the people that if the Rath Yatra does take place and people do not obey the norms issued by the government to control the spread of the virus it might result into a catastrophe. The procession is a ten-day event, and the people lifting the chariots cannot maintain social distancing, which will put them at risk of contracting the virus.
On 18th June when Supreme Court stayed this years Rath Yatra, Odisha government accepted it and issued a statement that the state government will abide by the Supreme Courts order. However, today Odisha government said that it was ready to hold the Rath Yatra in the state. The Central government too told the Supreme Court that Lord Jagannath’s Rath Yatra in Puri can be allowed to be held this year without public participation in view of the coronavirus pandemic. The Puri Rath Yatra, which is attended by lakhs of people from across the world, is scheduled from June 23.
Update: Supreme Court has allowed the Yatra to take place however, it had asked the Government to follow strict condition and not to compromise on Health Issue.