New Delhi: The historic Rath Yatra festival, which is marked by a gigantic chariot carnival swarmed by millions of devotees, is the newest addition to the list of festivities marred by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Supreme Court, on Thursday, stayed this year’s procession, which was scheduled to start from June 23, in view of the rapid proliferation in the country’s Corona tally.

In the hearing, Chief Justice S A Bobde said that Lord Jagannath would not forgive us if we allow this year’s Rath Yatra to go on; as such a huge gathering can’t take place.  The bench also directed the Naveen Patnaik government in Odisha not to allow procession and related activities anywhere in the state to avoid the spread of Coronavirus.

It is pertinent to note that the total number of positive Covid-19 cases in India has escalated to over 3.6 lakhs with over 12,000 fatalities across the country. In Odisha alone, the count of total positive cases jumped to 4,338 with 12,80 active cases and 3047 recovered cases. 

The Hindu festival dedicated to lord Jagannath, has been celebrated unswervingly in Odisha’s Puri since ancient times. Though the observance of the chariot festival dates back to the period of the Puranas, it will be the first time in the last known 284 years when it could not be held.

As per a report in Hindustan Times, the last time it could not be held was between between 1733 and 1735 when Mohammed Taqi Khan, then deputy governor of Odisha, attacked the temple, forcing the shifting of the idols.

Historical records describe King Ramsingh of Jaipur as organising the Rath Yatra in 18th century in Rajasthan. There are records of Kings of Mayurbhanj and Parlakhemundi in Odisha as organizing the Yatra.

Significance:

The chariot procession goes on for a stretch of 10-12 days and millions of devotes from across the country throng the pilgrim town of Puri to witness the carnival. The public procession is held annually and holds special significance particularly in Odisha, among Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and other East Indian states.

A chariot of Lord Jagannath (Vishnu), his brother Balabhadra, sister Subhadra and Sudarshan Chakra, leave the Jagannath Puri temple. Apart from being the largest chariot procession in the world, it is the only festival in the world where deities are taken out of temples.

They are made to travel to another Gundicha Temple, where they stay for nine days. Legends have it that after bathing in the sun with 108 water containers, deities catch a fever, which necessitates their travel to their aunt’s place for a few days. They are then offered concoction to recover.

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