AHMEDABAD: The Gujarat government on Thursday gave its nod for the 144th rath yatra of Lord Jagannath in Ahmedabad on July 12 with restricted participation and strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols and guidelines.
In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state government has made it clear that except for three chariots and two other vehicles, no other vehicle, singing troupes, akhadas, elephants or decorated trucks will be allowed during the procession this time.
To stop people from gathering along the route for a glimpse of the deity, a curfew will be imposed on the entire yatra route from early morning till afternoon, Minister of State for Home Pradeepsinh Jadeja told reporters in the state capital Gandhinagar.
Last year, only a symbolic rath yatra was organised in the premises of the Lord Jagannath temple in Jamalpur area here after the Gujarat High Court denied permission for the usual public procession in the wake of the pandemic.
Traditionally, the procession, led by chariots, would start early at around 7 am from the 400-year-old temple and return by 8 pm.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak last year, lakhs of people used to gather along the route on 'Ashadhi Beej' every year to catch a glimpse of the decorated elephants and tableaux moving around in some 100 trucks.
The procession used to come back to the Lord Jagannath temple after covering a distance of 19 km in about 12 hours, which included an hour-long lunch break at Saraspur. "This time, we have planned to complete the yatra in four to five hours. There will not be any large gathering in Saraspur for the lunch break. The curfew on the route will be lifted as soon as the chariots return in the afternoon," Jadeja said.
Since people from other districts and those living in western parts of the city also flock the route to watch the procession, Jadeja said police will regulated traffic movement on all bridges to stop people from reaching near the route.
"Instead of crowding the yatra route, we request people to watch the live telecast of the event on Doordarshan and other channels. We recently experienced the second wave of coronavirus. We must be very careful now and make sure this festival does not escalate the situation," the minister said.
As per the tradition, youth from the Khalasi community pull the chariots. This time, only 60 youths, 20 for each of the three chariots, will be given permission to pull the chariots on the route.
While a negative RT-PCR test certificate has been made compulsory for the Khalasis to take part in the event, those who have taken both the doses of vaccine against COVID-19 will be given priority, the minister said.
Effectively, no one except those 60 youths along with some priests on each chariot, chief priest Mahant Dilipdasjee and trustees of the temple will take part in this year's rath yatra, he said. Everyone involved in the procession and at the temple will be required to wear masks and maintain social distancing, he said.
Jadeja also said Union Home Minister Amit Shah would perform the 'mangla aarti' at the temple on July 12 morning before the idols of deities are taken out for the yatra. He further said the COVID-19 situation has improved significantly in Gujarat and on Wednesday, only 65 new cases were found and no death was reported.