The Rath Yatra Dilemma: Odisha Yet To Take Final Decision

The Rath Yatra has been the biggest festival of Odisha since ages and attracts a large crowd each year at the Jagannath temple in Puri. However, this year, due to stringent measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, a decision is yet to be taken whether to conduct the annual festival.

Notably, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has allowed the construction of chariots under certain conditions including observance of social distancing.

The ministry has directed the state government to prevent any congregation at the Ratha-Khala, where the chariots are built, and has instructed that access to the area be closed to the general public.

Although preparations are underway, the final decision about conducting the Rath Yatra lies with the state government after assessing the situation, as the festival attracts millions of people from across the world.

Puri King Gajapati Dibyasinghdev, who also heads the managing committee of the temple, has backed the making of chariots as a construction activity, which is allowed in all COVID-19 zones.

The Rath Yatra is scheduled to take place on June 23 this year. The temple doors have been shut since March 20 due to the pandemic and only day-to-day rituals are being conducted by the temple priests.

The state government is yet to take a final decision. The option to hold the Rath Yatra only in the presence of the policemen and temple priests is also being considered. However, the government is uncertain about deploying 5000 policemen for pulling the ropes and cordoning off the area, when the cops will be required elsewhere for maintaining the lockdown protocol. The government is also worried about a possible surge in COVID cases if devotees are allowed to congregate in Puri.

The Yatra has been called off only 32 times in the 425 years of the celebration mostly due to invasions.

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