NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday stopped one of the biggest annual festivals of the world — the Rath Yatra in Puri in
, which is as old as the 12th century Jagannath temple and where the three chariots of the deities have always rolled except for some years in the 16th and 17th centuries.
As the chariots of three deities — Balabhadra, Jagannath and Subhadra — were almost ready, the Centre through solicitor general Tushar Mehta urged the SC for time to deliberate on the issue. When a bench led by CJI S A Bobde said it would not sit on Friday, the last working day before the SC goes into summer vacation, the SG requested the court to permit rituals and religious ceremonies associated with the Rath Yatra.
With Odisha government’s counsel Harish Salve saying “one has to rise above belief and faith at a time when the number of Covid-19 cases are rising”, a bench of
and Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and A S Bopanna remained firm that the Rath Yatra and rituals associated with it would not be permitted this year.
The CJI-led bench said, “We direct that there shall be no Rath Yatra anywhere in the temple town of Odisha or in any other part of the state this year. We further direct that there shall be no activities, secular or religious, associated with the Rath Yatra during this period.”
Given the festival’s deep roots in Odia religious sentiments, numerous small chariots are pulled symbolically in every village and town of the state and the SC order restrains even those.
Quick to fathom the setback to the faithful, CJI Bobde said, “We hope Lord Jagannath forgives us for stopping Rath Yatra because of the pandemic and keeping in view the health and safety of citizens.” Though the court restrained Rath Yatra festivities across Odisha, the SC was silent on Rath Yatras in other states, especially popular in Gujarat, West Bengal and
The bench asked petitioner NGO Odisha Vikas Parishad’s counsel
whether it would be alright to allow Rath Yatra without a congregation of people and whether the rituals could be allowed to be performed. “Olympics have been deferred and the country cannot risk gatherings of lakhs and lakhs of devotees from across the country when Covid-19 cases are rising daily,” Rohatgi replied.
After passing the order, the CJI said he learnt on Thursday that the word ‘juggernaut’ came from ‘Jagannath’s chariot’, the unstoppable vehicle that keeps rolling. The SG was quick to interject, “But the SC stopped the juggernaut today.” Mehta said the world famous Kohinoor diamond was said to be once owned by the Jagannath temple. Finding Salve arguing for the Odisha government from
, the CJI and the SG suggested that Salve could go and have a look at the precious diamond, now part of the Queen’s property.
The Odisha government, through Salve, helped the SC in reaching the “no Rath Yatra this year” conclusion by saying, “There are times when one has to rise above belief and faith. There is complete lockdown in the state. Please make it a specific order. Honestly, whatever be the instructions of my client (Odisha government), any celebration of Rath Yatra will attract a huge congregation and will lead to a law and order problem. The rituals can be performed within the temple.”
Though the court stopped this year’s Rath Yatra along with associated religious and secular activities, it said, “We are not going to say anything about the rituals within the temple.” The bench said the right to worship and profess a religion along with rituals was a fundamental right, but was subject to public health requirements.
“It is not disputed that the number of people that are likely to gather for the annual Rath Yatra scheduled to be held from June 23 is going to be about 10 to 12 lakh. The festivities normally continue for a period of 10 to 12 days. 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 from holding the Rath Yatra this year. Article 25 of the Constitution of India itself confers the right to freely profess and propagate religion subject to health,” it said.