Chief servitor of Lord Jagannatha asks SC to allow Puri Ratha Yatra without public...

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Janardhan Pattajoshi Mohapatra, who is the hereditary chief servitor of Lord Jagannatha of the Jagannatha Temple at Puri, Odisha, moved the Supreme Court on Friday seeking recall of the top court’s June 18 order which had barred holding of the annual Hindu festival of Rath Yatra this year in view of the threat posed by Covid-19 pandemic.

Mohapatra submitted that the Rath Yatra has an unbroken tradition and is an essential practice of the Jagannatha temple which the temple administrators should mandatorily observe under all circumstance.

“Any interruption in the observance of this mandatory religious practice affects the very sanctity of the temple and all its future rituals, as well as the faith of millions of devotees across the world who understand and revere the significance of the Rath Yatra,” the application stated.

Also read: Puri Shankaracharya, priests want SC to review stay on Rath Yatra

Mohapatra, therefore, suggested that instead of imposing a blanket ban on the Rath Yatra and the festival and rituals associated with it, the festival can be held without public participation by imposing a curfew in the city of Puri and closing the city borders.

“If a curfew is imposed on the day of Rath Yatra and the Rathas are pulled with the help of earthmovers, the entire journey of Lord Jagannatha from the Shri Jagannath Temple to Gundicha mandir of around 2.8 kilometres can be completed in less than one hour. An absolute bar on the performance of such an essential ritual is not necessary to protect public health”, the application filed through advocate Suvidutt Sundaram stated.

The Rath Yatra is a festival associated with Lord Jagannatha. It was scheduled to commence this year on June 23. The festival lasts for 10 to 12 days and involves a procession of chariots containing the deities Lord Jagannatha, his brother Lord Balabhadra and sister Devi Subhadra.

The Supreme Court had ordered a stay on the festival and all activities associated with it this year stating that allowing the same would lead to a congregation of more than 10 lakh devotees in violation of social distancing norms which could compromise public health and safety.

This order was passed in a petition filed by an NGO, Odisha Vikas Parishad which had moved the top court pointing out the public health risk involved if the annual event is allowed to take place.

The NGO referred to the Tablighi Jamaat incident which was a Muslim religious congregation held in mid-March at the Nizamuddin area in Delhi which led to a spurt in Covid-19 cases across the country after people from various parts of the country and even foreign countries had attended the event.

“Of about 4,400 Covid-19 positive cases in India as on April 7, nearly one third were related to the religious gathering at the Markaz, Delhi. Thus, in order to avoid any similar instances of outbreak of Covid-19 cases, a religious gathering in the nature of Rath Yatra festival ought to be avoided”, the petition had stated.

“Having regard to the danger presented by such a large gathering of people for the Rath Yatra, we consider it appropriate in the interests of public health and safety of citizens who are devotees to restrain the respondents (state and district authorities and the managing committee of Jagannatha temple) from holding the Rath Yatra this year”, the bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde had ordered.

The court had also directed that no such Rath Yatra should be allowed in any other part of Odisha.

Mohapatra pointed out that the Rath Yatra has been conducted under all circumstances since time immemorial including during the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918.

“The Rath Yatra is an essential, mandatory, integral and indispensable religious practice which has scriptural sanction. Non-conduct of the Rath Yatra has consequences not only for the sanctity of the temple but also for the society in general”, his application said.

He, therefore, suggested that the state government may make an announcement that the Rath Yatra will be conducted with absolutely no participation from the public and strict penal consequences will follow if any attempt is made to enter Puri during the Rath Yatra.

“Arrangements for live-broadcasting of the Rath Yatra may be allowed like every year to enable the crores of devotees across the world, including the residents of Puri to have Darshan of the three deities”, the plea said.

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