For the first time in 284 years, Puri’s annual Jagannath Rath Yatra celebrations may not be held due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide lockdown. By Upasana Singh

Rath Jatra, the Festival of Chariots of Lord Jagannath is celebrated every year in Odisha’s temple town of Puri. This year, the festival may not be held as its fate depends on government guidelines that will be set in place after May 3. Puri Gajapati Maharaj, Dibysingh Deb, head of the management committee of the 12th-century shrine stated that only after the lockdown ends, the temple officials will assess the rules and guidelines, and adopt measures as per the government’s announcement.

 

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Millions of devotees across India are keeping their fingers crossed in hopes of being a part of the centuries-old festival. It is likely that given the crisis the country is facing due to COVID-19, the festival may not be a grand affair. However, as per the government’s plan, it has been decided that all important rituals leading up to the Rath Yatra will be performed inside the temple without the presence of pilgrims.

Scheduled to take place on June 23, the Rath Yatra witnesses frenzied devotees pulling the raths (chariots) of the three deities—Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, and Devi Subhadra on the Grand Road. Usually, thousands of local devotees come together to celebrate each of the events including, Snana Purnina (the birthday of Lord Jagannath), Anasara (a 14-day quarantine observed by the Lord after falling sick), Chandan Yatra (sandalwood voyage) and the grand spectacle of the deities on their giant iconic chariots. Due to the increasing spread of Coronavirus in India, these events may not take place this year.

 

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Akshaya Tritiya, which was celebrated on April 25 this year, marks the beginning of the construction of the chariots. However, it has been reported that the construction which is an integral part of the festival, cannot begin until May 3 due to the current lockdown restrictions.

If the Rath Yatra is held with its traditional events and rituals, it will be limited for people to watching it live on TV this year.

Related: All You Need To Know About The Rath Yatra Festival In Puri, Odisha