PURI: Devotees from across the globe glued to television screens and online platforms as the world famous annual Rath Yatra (chariot festival) commenced at Puri on Tuesday sans devotees amid conditions laid by the Supreme Court keeping an eye on the Covid-19 situation in Odisha.
On Monday, the apex court while reversing its earlier order restraining the Rath Yatra this year had allowed the annual festival only at the Puri temple, the abode of Lord Jagannath.The 'pahandi' (ceremonial procession) of the Trinity - Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra began after morning rituals inside Shree Jagannath temple. Only servitors who tested negative for Covid-19 performed rituals and participated in the pahandi.
Lord Sudarshan was first taken out in a procession at around 7 am. Later the three deities were taken out in separate processions to their respective chariots parked in front of the temple amid the beating of gongs and drums. The pahandi rituals completed ahead of the schedule.
Even as devotees remained indoors in complete adherence to the Covid-19 guidelines, emotions ran high and devotion filled the atmosphere as the Lord of the Universe ushered out of the temple that is closed for public darshan of deities since March 22 due to the coronavirus outbreak.
VIEW GALLERY | For the first time without devotees, Lord Jagganath's Rath Yatra rolls out in Odisha
The deities have been placed on their respective chariots. After Puri Shankaracharya Nischalananda Saraswati offered prayers and took the blessings of the deities, Puri King Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb performed Chherapahanra (ceremonial sweeping) rituals on the chariots. The pulling of beautifully decorated chariots will start at about 12 noon from Jagannath Temple to Gundicha temple (Mausima temple) covering a distance of 2.5 km.
The entire Badadanda (Grand Road) that is usually reverberated with the sounds of ghanta, kahali, mahuri, bells and 'Jay Jagannath' chantings by lakhs of devotees during such occasions every year, looked deserted as devotees were not allowed in compliance to the Supreme Court directive.
A servitor was admitted to Covid Hospital before commencement of Rath Yatra rituals as he was found positive for Covid-19 during tests on Monday night. With the SC allowing only those who are tested negative to pull the chariots, the Puri district administration had conducted Covid-19 tests of 1143 servitors. Contact tracing of the servitor detected positive is on.
The State Government has imposed a 41-hour shutdown in the entire Puri district for the pulling of chariots. Tight security arrangements have been made for smooth conduct of the festival and ensure shutdown restrictions. More than 50 platoons of armed police personnel have been deployed in and around Puri and the entire Puri town is under CCTV surveillance.
Meanwhile, President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Odisha Governor Prof Ganeshi Lal, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and several Union Ministers and Chief Ministers of different States greeted people on the account of Rath Yatra and prayed the almighty to save the humanity from the pandemic.