Break from tradition: Only the temple servitors gathered for the Puri Rath Yatra on Tuesday.

Break from tradition: Only the temple servitors gathered for the Puri Rath Yatra on Tuesday.   | Photo Credit:

Traditional servitors who tested negative for COVID-19 performed the rituals

The annual Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath was held in Puri on Tuesday without the usual congregation of devotees, a historic departure from the centuries-old tradition.

Also read | Symbolic Rath Yatra at Lord Jagannath temple in Ahmedabad

The traditional servitors of Shree Jagannath Temple, who tested negative for COVID-19, performed the rituals associated with the Rath Yatra, which was allowed by the Supreme Court with stringent conditions.

As per scriptures, deities step out from their abode once a year to give darshan to all devotees. It is considered auspicious to have a glimpse of the deities — Balabhadra, Jagannath and Subhadra — on grand chariots. More than a million people come to Puri to witness the grand festival every year.

However, in view of the pandemic, the Supreme Court directed the State government not to allow devotees to gather for the festival. The State government imposed a 41-hour shutdown in Puri.

The situation was normal in the temple. The traditional servitors started performing rituals since the early hours. They brought the idols by swaying them rhythmically as part of the ritual called ‘Pahandi’. It was followed by customary ‘Chhera Pahanra’ — sweeping of the wooden floor of the chariots by Puri’s titular king Dibyasingha Dev. As per tradition, Puri Shankaracharya Nischalananda Saraswati paid obeisance to the deities on the chariots.

As ordered by the Supreme Court, the Puri district administration conducted a COVID-19 test on 1,143 servitors. One of them tested positive. The administration said tracing of the contacts of the lone servitor was under way.

Around noon, the servitors started towing the chariots. Before the decorated chariots rolled on the 3 km Grand Road, fire service personnel sanitised the whole stretch. The police had sealed the entrance of every lane leading to the Grand Road. The natives of Puri were not even allowed to step out of their homes.

Every year, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik makes it a point of visiting Puri during the Rath Yatra. This year, he shared his photographs of watching the festival on a giant television screen at his office. “I congratulate the Puri district administration, the servitors and the police on the smooth conduct of Rath Yatra,” he said.

President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi greeted the people on the occasion.

According to researchers, the Rath Yatra could not be conducted during the Moghul period when the 12th century temple came under attack on numerous occasions. Then, traditional priests used to shift the idols to unknown locations, fearing theft. However, never before has the Rath Yatra been held without devotees. The return journey of the deities will take place on July 1.