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By Sangram Panda, Bhubaneswar ,Odisha

Nestling in the shores of the Bay of Bengal with an un-ending coastline, Puri is one among the four Hindu “dhams”, where many would like to die. To die there is to go to the Lord directly.This temple town, Puri was gripped by mass hysteria, as the Chariots of Lord Jagannath roll out on their annual journey to Gundicha temple, teeming lakhs will sway with emotion. Some roll on the streets while some simply jump around, and some weep silently.


When the news broke that the nine days Rath Yatra has been stayed by the Supreme Court due to corona virus outbreak, it took every Jagannath lovers to despair.
In the living memory, that this may be for the first time in the history this Rath Yatra will not take over. Before Supreme Court’s order was uploaded in the court website, applications by different organization and persons were filed in the top court seeking recall and modification of the order.
The same bench which imposed the stay, reluctantly lifted the stay saying the court cannot “Micro Manage” the rituals and left it to the state, central government, chhatis Nijog, servitors, temple administration to do the needful.
The Odisha government which had originally supported the stay changed its stance with the centre’s intervention. Explaining the lifting of its stay on the government to role the three member bench led by chief justice of India observed that during  the first hearing on 18th June 2020 it had suggested to all the parties involved in the procession of chariots, the Rath Yatra itself could be allowed to proceed without the general congregation of devotees and some restrictions the parties had responded to it saying that it would be impossible to ensure that there is no congregation and obey the restrictions reposed.
“The court therefore, left with no option but to grant an injunction restoring the nine days Rath Yatrea itself”, the bench explained.
Despite agreeing to lift the stay on the Rath Yatra the top court approached concerned about the impossibility of tackling any or all infected people after the festival. By lifting its own stay on the Rath Yatra the court appeared to test its own commitment to secularism and Article-25 of the constitution.
But whatever it may be, a new history on “Rath Yatra with curbs” is written herewith.

On the second day of the bright fortnight in the month of Asadha each year, Jagannath’s journey begins. Accompanied by Balabhadra, Subhadra and the Lord’s mythological weapon, Sudarshan Chakra : the Lord’s entourage in three massive gorgeously decorated chariots rolls its way to Gundicha temple, three kilometers down the straight high road. The roads lead to Puri, as the day approaches for the festival of Jagannath. Bada- Danda, the grand road of Puri, along which the chariots roll is packed elbow to elbow by a vast multitude of devotees and frenzied roars (this year no devotees due to corona virus) of ‘Jai Jagannath’ rise repeatedly as the chariots of Jagannath, his elder brother Balabhadra and their sister Subhadra, inch their way through the emotionally charged surging crowd. And amidst the din of music, drum beat, cymbal clash and deep-throated shouts, one discordant note will be the intermittent shrill of whistles blown by health service volunteers. In the scorching heat, many of the old, the infirm and occasionally the young, faint easily. A sharp whistle and soon a stretcher arrive to whisk away the sick. But never mind the spectacle goes on. All necks are craned and all eyes riveted on the Lion’s Gate, the main entrance of the Lord Jagannath temple, as everyone waits anxiously for the Lord to emerge. And then starts flatting in the air the rhythmic sound of gongs and conch-shells from inside the temple. The noise grows to a crescendo and the first to emerge is Balabhadra. Then emerges Subhadra and lastly the Lord Jagannath is brought out. The curtain brought thus rings down on the Preliminaries known a “Pahandi”.

Pahandi over starts “Cherapahanra”. The king of Puri whose ancestors once ruled the entire state, arrives with a golden broom and sweeps the precincts of the deities. It signifies that even the king is subservient to the Lord. After this traditional Cherapahanra, the actual journey starts. The vast multitude seizes the long ropes and begins to pull the chariot forward. And as the chariots roll down, offering go up and the priests, after offering them to the Lord, throws them back to the devotees below.

The sight has no parallel. Various theories circulate explaining reasons for the Lords yearly journey to Gundicha temple. Some say Jagannath had promised Gundicha, his aunt and king Indradyumna’s wife that at least once in a year he would visit her. Hence the Lord makes the ritual journey every year keeping his promise. Yet another reason narrated by priests is that the Lord retires in seclusion for 15 days before the festival. The Rath Yatra is to make merry after days of isolation. The Lord stays at Gundicha temple for a week and then returns. The trip back to his abode is called “Bahuda Yatra”. As on the first day of the Rath Yatra (Car-Festival), the return journey evokes similar unbridled emotions. Devotees jostle with one another to snatch a better view. Bedecked with priceless gold ornaments, the deities are finally taken inside the temple in a procession marking the close of the nine day festival. The deities after their brief sojourn are back at their places – to begin their journey next year once again.

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