Chariot construction for Rath Yatra begins in Odisha’s Puri amid lockdown

The construction venue has been barricaded and covered with cloth, and social distancing norms are being followed

Around 10 lakh devotees from across the country and abroad throng the town of Puri during the Rath Yatra every year. File photo: Twitter

The chariot construction for Lord Jagannath’s Rath Yatra, the annual car festival of the trinity scheduled to be held on June 23, began in Puri on Friday (May 8) amid the lockdown, an official said.

The construction work is underway at the Ratha Khala (traditional temple workshop) located on both sides of the Grand Road in front of the Jagannath temple office and the Sri Nahar palace.

The construction venue has been barricaded and covered with cloth as per the instruction of the administration, and social distancing norms are being followed. The Ratha Khala has also been declared a prohibited area, the official said.

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The chariot construction is being carried out as per the lockdown guidelines, with maharana (carpenter) and bhoi (log transporters) servitors covering their faces with masks and maintaining distance with each other, said Bijay Mohapatra, chief carpenter of Lord Jagannath’s chariots.

He said the construction work started a day after the Centre allowed activities at the Ratha Khala. Mohapatra added that logs are being cut to make the wheels of the chariots at present.

Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) chief administrator Krishna Kumar said health screening of around 150 people engaged in the chariot construction would be done.

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He said the state government has two challenges — timely completion of the chariots and maintaining the health of those engaged in the construction.

“We have proposed that the maharana and bhoi servitors should remain in the temple lodging house while engaged in the work. They should not go home, keeping in view the health of their family members. The temple will make lodging, food, and transportation arrangements for them,” Kumar told reporters after a meeting with all stakeholders.

The chariot construction work has been delayed by nearly 10 days due to the lockdown guidelines, he said.

Kumar said the state government has already received a letter from the Ministry of Home Affairs for starting the chariot construction with conditions to follow the guidelines.

The Shree Jagannath Temple Managing Committee, headed by Gajapati Maharaja Dibya Singha Deb, had also earlier appealed to both the central and the state governments to allow the chariot construction work to begin.

The Centre on Thursday (May 7) said the decision of holding the Rath Yatra in Puri would be taken by the Odisha government keeping in mind the prevailing COVID-19 situation, but allowed construction of the chariots during the lockdown for the religious procession.

In a letter to the state government, the Union home ministry said construction of the chariots had been allowed in the Ratha Khala, which is situated on both sides of the Grand Road in front of the Jagannath temple office and the Sri Nahar palace in Puri, subject to fulfilling of conditions.

The green signal from Delhi came a day after the state government had sought the ministry’s consent for undertaking the construction of the chariots for the annual festival in the pilgrim town of Puri.

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No religious congregation should take place in the Ratha Khala and complete segregation of people engaged in the chariot construction should be ensured, the ministry said.

However, a decision on holding the Rath Yatra would be taken by the state government, keeping in view the conditions prevailing at that point of time, the letter said.

According to the guidelines issued for the ongoing lockdown, religious congregation is strictly prohibited.

The Centre’s nod for starting the chariot construction was required due to the nationwide lockdown over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had last month held discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on uncertainty over organising the Rath Yatra because of the novel coronavirus crisis.

Around 10 lakh devotees from across the country and abroad throng the seaside pilgrim town during the festival every year.

The festival commemorates Lord Jagannath’s annual visit to the Gundicha Temple via Mausi Maa Temple (maternal aunts home) near Saradha Bali, Puri.

As part of the yatra, the deities — Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Lord Balabhadra and younger sister Devi Subhadra, along with Sudarshan — are taken in a procession out of the main shrine and placed on the chariots, which are kept ready in front of the temple.

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