The world famous Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath in Puri is less than 48 hours away. But uncertainty continues to hang over the marquee event in the religious calendar of the state, even after Jagadguru Nischalananda Saraswati of the Govardhan Peeth, the revered Hindu seer and Gajapati King Dibyasingh Dev, the ‘first servitor’ of Lord Jagannath and titular head of the Lord’s temple in Puri, have come out in forceful support of holding the Rath Yatra, even if only in a truncated manner without the participation of devotees.
In a statement issued on Sunday, the Shankaracharya did not mince his words while pillorying the Supreme Court for refusing to take up for hearing the over 10 petitions filed in the court, seeking modification of its June 18 order banning the Rath Yatra and all religious rituals associated with it in view of the Coronavirus pandemic. “If the Supreme Court had wanted, it could have taken up for hearing the petitions filed on June 20. The courts do remain open even on holidays if the situation warrants. The Rath Yatra is day after tomorrow and just a day remains for the big event now. That is why one is forced to view this as a well-planned project to stop the Rath Yatra altogether. The fact that it happened just a day before the summer vacations start also proves the same,” the Puri seer said in the statement.
Earlier on Saturday, the Gajapati king, who is the head of the Temple Management Committee, had written to Chief Minister urging the Odisha government to file a modification petition in the apex court to ensure the religiously and legally sanctioned Rath Yatra is not stopped altogether. “The present grave crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is not a situation which renders impossible the conduct of Rath Yatra. The festival can be held without the congregation of the general public,” he said in the letter, pointing out that Rath Yatra had never been stopped even during the worst natural calamities and epidemics. ‘If the Rath Yatra is not held this year, it will hurt the religious sentiments of countless devotees around the world,” Dev added.
The Gajapati King’s letter to the CM followed a stormy joint meeting of the Temple Management Committee and Chhattisha Nijog, the apex body of servitors, on Friday where the state government was roundly blasted for the ‘dubious’ role it played in the whole affair. Briefing media persons after the four-hour long meeting, Dev had said an impression had been created that the state government had deliberately misled the Supreme Court by not apprising it of the Committee’s view that the Rath Yatra can be held without the participation of devotees. “In fact, the consensus opinion was that the apex court issued the order it did because the state government counsel himself said in the court that there would be a congregation of 10-12 lakh people for the big event,” he had said.
Coming from the Gajapati King, who is always reticent about criticizing anyone, this was as strong an indictment of the Naveen Patnaik government as one can imagine. But more than 24 hours after the Puri King dashed off the letter to the CM, the government remains intriguingly silent. Neither the CM nor Law minister Pratapa Jena, under whose jurisdiction the affairs of the Temple come, has said a word about the Puri King’s letter or the Shankaracharya’s equally strong indictment this morning.
The silence of the government has only served to further strengthen the impression in the minds of millions of Jagannath devotees that the Naveen Patnaik government had indeed played a dubious role to make sure that even a token Rath Yatra without the participation of devotees does not take place.