Puri set to hold second devotee-less Rath Yatra amid COVID-19; curfew imposed

Puri: As the countdown begins for the second consecutive devotees-less Ratha Jatra of Lord Jagannath in Puri, the district administration imposed curfew from 8 pm on  Sunday for two days, official sources said.

The administration imposed curbs across the 3-km long Grand Road from Shree Jagannath Temple to Sri Gunducha Temple where all activities excluding medical emergencies are prohibited.

As many as 65 platoons (1 platoon comprise 30 personnel) were deployed for the smooth conduct of the Lord's annual festival amidst prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.

Pulling of the holy chariots will start at 3 pm Monday.

The security forces will also be deployed on the roof tops of different buildings on both sides of the grand road in order to ensure that people do not congregate in large numbers to witness the festival from the residential houses, hotels, lodges and guest houses.

Though there was no such restrictions on the people witnessing the Ratha Jatra from roof tops last year, the administration this time banned such practice after it came to the notice that some hotels, lodges and guest houses book rooms with provision of allowing people to witness the festival from the roof top.

Even some local people were found to have invited their relatives and friends to allow them to see the festival from their houses.

Puri district collector Samarth Verma said that people are urged not to come out of their residences during the curfew period from 8 pm of Sunday till 8 pm of Tuesday and crowd the grand road.

The measure is taken keeping in view the public health and to check spread of infection among citizens. He said people can witness the festival on their TV sets as the government has made arrangement to give free of cost feed to different channels and web portals.

Meanwhile, chief administrator of Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) Krishan Kumar formally extended invitation to Jagadguru Sankaracharya of Puri Govardhan Peeth, Swami Nischalananda Saraswati to visit the Lords on chariots as per tradition before they are pulled.

The Sankaracharya has accepted the invitation and he will come to Rath Jatra on Monday with six of his disciples, the SJTA head said.

As the three chariots — Lord Balabhadra's Taladwaja, Lord Jagannath's Nadighosh and Devi Subhadra's Darpadalan— are ready to roll on the grand road, Director General of Police, Abhay reviewed the security arrangements and he too appealed all including the people of Puri to cooperate in implementation of the curfew orders in public interest.

"With the cooperation of the residents of Puri and blessing of Lord Jagannath, all the rituals are underway smoothly so far. We hope the mega festival will be undertaken tomorrow peacefully in compliance with all SOPs," said Puri SP Kanwar Vishal Singh.

He said all the lanes and by-lanes in Puri town are barricaded and adequate police forces have been deployed. All the entry points to Puri town have been sealed to ensure none can enter the grand road when the festival is going on.

Earlier on Sunday, the three gigantic chariots were pulled to the Lion Gate (Singhadwara) of Srimandir after the 'Agyan Mala' (order from the Lord) reached Ratha Khala.

The SJTA chief said only servitors will be allowed to pull the chariots and no others, including security personnel will be allowed to touch the ropes.

The chariot pulling is scheduled to start from 3 pm on Monday after the Puri king, Gajapati Maharaja Divyasngha Deb  perform the rituals of Chhera Pahra (sweeping of chariot).

The procession of the sibling deities will begin at 8 am, he said adding that the programme may be advanced as the servitors are fully cooperating with the administration.

About 8,000 people including servitors, security, SJTA officials, district administration officials, media persons, and others have undergone RT-PCR test before the festival. "Only COVID-19 negative persons will be allowed to participate in the festival," he said.

As maintaining social distancing may not be possible in such a mega festival as the participation or more people is required for the procession of the deities, the administration has ensured that only COVID-19 negative persons and those fully vaccinated be allowed to take part, an official said.

The arrangements have been made for providing health care to for the servitors who will pull the chariots. A green corridor is created for the emergency situation, he said.

Meanwhile, the district administration of Kendrapada on Sunday also imposed prohibitory order under section 144 of CrPC to ensure smooth conduct of the Rath Jatra rituals inside the temple.

The prohibitory order is imposed from 9 pm on Sunday till 9 pm in Monday along the Bada Danda in order to prevent people entering Shree Baladevjew temple area.

The restriction will be force from Shree Baldevjew temple to Mausi Maa temple, the local administration said in a notification. The Rath Yatra rituals will be conducted inside the temple, it said.

The order is significant in view of the growing demand for conduct of Rath Jatra in Kendrapara also as done in Puri adhering to the COVID-19 protocol.

A section of people had filed petitions in the Supreme Court demanding permission to hold Ratha Jatra in Kendrapara. However, the apex court refused to intervene in the decision of the state government during the pandemic situation.