The Union Ministry of Home Affairs on Thursday (May 7) granted permission to the Odisha government to start the construction of chariots for the annual festival of Ratha Jatra slated for June 24, while also making it clear that the work should be carried out while following lockdown guidelines.
The festival, which marks the annual sojourn of the three deities of Puri Jagannath Temple is being celebrated for more than 200 years and draws lakhs of devotees from across the globe who gather at the Grand Road of Puri to pull the giant chariots.
The ministry, however, has left it on the state government to decide whether or not to conduct the festival, depending on the COVID-19 situation in the state during that time.
In a letter to Odisha chief secretary Asit Tripathy, MHA Under Secretary Ashish Kumar Singh said that construction of rathas (chariots) has to take place in the Ratha Khala (chariot workshop) in front of the temple office on the Grand Road.
The ministry also clarified that no religious congregation should take place in the Ratha Khala which should be completely segregated.
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Earlier speculations had lingered over the conduct of the grand festival due to the COVID-19 crisis this year. The festival has never been cancelled for the past 284 years despite the state facing devastating cyclones and the Great Famine of 1766.
On the day of Akshaya Tritiya on April 26, temple authorities had formally begun the chariot-building work through rituals within the temple premises. They were awaiting the nod of the state and the central government for the building of chariots which takes place after May 4.
The state meanwhile recorded 26 new cases in the past 24 hours, after the return of migrant workers from Gujarat’s Surat. The total number of cases in the state stands at 245.