A month ahead of the annual Rath Yatra, on July 12, the Odisha government on Thursday announced that this year, too, devotees will be barred from participating in the festival, which will only be held in Puri amid strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols. Special Relief Commissioner (SRC) PK Jena said that all guidelines of the Supreme Court, issued last year, will have to be followed in letter and spirit while observing the rituals on the occasion.
“This year also, Lord Jagannath’s Rath Yatra will be held sans devotees in Puri. The administration has prohibited similar celebrations in other parts of the state,” Jena said. Only selected COVID-negative and fully vaccinated servitors will be allowed to take part in ‘Snan Purnima’ – bathing ritual – and other programmes, the SRC said.
“Curfew will be clamped on the holy town on the day of Rath Yatra. All restrictions imposed during last year’s event will remain in force,” Jena explained. Noting that devotees will be able to witness the programmes live on television and webcasts, the official further said that the nine-day long car festival will commence as per schedule, and “just about 500 servitors will be allowed to pull the chariots during the period”.
District collector Samarth Verma, on his part, said Puri still registers around 300 COVID-19 cases every day. “Only essential and emergency services will be allowed during the festival. Vehicular movement to and from Puri will be restricted,” he stated, adding that work to build the chariots has reached its final stages and steps were taken to “ensure no hurdle came in its way”.
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