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The juggernaut rolls in India in the time of COVID-19

The rath yatra is taking place on 23rd June
Image courtesy: ©The Teaching Doc/Shutterstock.com

The famous rath yatra or the Lord Jagannath chariot festival rolled down the streets in the city of Puri on 23 June this year. The rath yatra is held every year in the beachside city of Puri in Odisha in eastern India.

Since the festival brings out pilgrims in large numbers which could pose health risks during the pandemic the Supreme Court of India in Delhi ruled against holding the festival this year on 18 June.

The court ruled that there would be ‘no ‘rath yatra’ anywhere in the temple town of Odisha or in any part of the state this year’.

Warning that the break of social distancing due to large festive congregations is dangerous and the spread of the pandemic cannot be stopped if crowd milled around the city, the judge said, ‘Did you know the word juggernaut comes from the word Jagannath and means something that cannot be stopped?

The court’s ruling would have meant that it would have been the first time in over 200 years that the gigantic raths or chariots would not rattle down the medieval city of Puri.  That was not to be.

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There were protests against the court’s ruling by some devotees in Odisha.

Following appeals from groups that did not want to stop the tradition, the court revised its order saying that the responsibility of holding the festival will be in the hands of the temple committees and state government with “limited attendance“.

The state televised the festival as devotees, wearing face masks, dragged the chariot with the thick ropes, hailing the name of Jagannath.

Each year over a million pilgrims throng the festival where the three massive wooden chariots, bearing the Hindu deities of Jagannath or lord of the universe, Balaram and Subhadra, are pulled by hand by devotees.

This year the juggernaut rolled on, COVID-19 notwithstanding.