Plea in SC against Rath Ya­tra or­der

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - HTSPOTLIGH­T - Murali Kr­ish­nan letters@hin­dus­tan­times.com

Ja­nard­han Pat­ta­joshi Mohapatra, the hered­i­tary chief servi­tor of Lord Ja­gan­natha of the Ja­gan­natha Tem­ple in Puri, moved the Supreme Court on Fri­day seek­ing the re­call of the top court’s June 18 or­der which had barred the hold­ing of the an­nual Hindu festival of Rath Ya­tra this year in view of the threat posed by the Covid-19 pan­demic.

Mohapatra sub­mit­ted that the Rath Ya­tra is an un­bro­ken tra­di­tion and an es­sen­tial prac­tice of the Ja­gan­natha tem­ple, which the tem­ple ad­min­is­tra­tors should manda­to­rily ob­serve in all cir­cum­stances.

“Any in­ter­rup­tion in the ob­ser­vance of this manda­tory re­li­gious prac­tice af­fects the very sanc­tity of the tem­ple and all its fu­ture rit­u­als, as well as the faith of mil­lions of devo­tees across the world who un­der­stand and re­vere the sig­nif­i­cance of the Rath Ya­tra,” the ap­pli­ca­tion stated.

Mohapatra, there­fore, sug­gested that in­stead of im­pos­ing a blan­ket ban on the Rath Ya­tra, and the festival and rit­u­als as­so­ci­ated with it, they could hold the festival with­out pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion by im­pos­ing a cur­few in the city of Puri and clos­ing its bor­ders. “If a cur­few is im­posed on the day of Rath Ya­tra and the Rathas are pulled with the help of earth movers, the en­tire jour­ney of Lord Ja­gan­natha from the Shri Ja­gan­nath Tem­ple to Gundicha mandir of around 2.8 km can be com­pleted in less than one hour. An ab­so­lute bar on the per­for­mance of such an es­sen­tial rit­ual is not nec­es­sary to pro­tect pub­lic health,” the ap­pli­ca­tion filed through ad­vo­cate Su­vidutt Sun­daram stated.

The Rath Ya­tra is a festival as­so­ci­ated with Lord Ja­gan­natha. It was sched­uled to com­mence this year on June 23. The festival lasts for 10 to 12 days and in­volves a pro­ces­sion of char­i­ots con­tain­ing the stat­ues of the de­ity Lord Ja­gan­natha, his brother Lord Bal­ab­hadra and sis­ter Devi Sub­hadra.

The Supreme Court had or­dered a stay on the festival and all ac­tiv­i­ties as­so­ci­ated with it this year stat­ing that al­low­ing the same would lead to a con­gre­ga­tion of more than 10 lakh devo­tees in vi­o­la­tion of so­cial dis­tanc­ing norms which could com­pro­mise pub­lic health and safety.

This or­der was passed in a pe­ti­tion filed by an NGO, Odisha Vikas Par­ishad which had moved the top court point­ing out the pub­lic health risk in­volved if the an­nual event took place.

The NGO re­ferred to the Tab­lighi Ja­maat in­ci­dent, a Mus­lim re­li­gious con­gre­ga­tion held in mid-March in Niza­mud­din, New Delhi, which re­sulted in a spurt of Covid-189 cases across the coun­try af­ter peo­ple from var­i­ous parts of In­dia and even for­eign coun­tries at­tended the event.

“Of about 4,400 Covid-19 positive cases in In­dia as on April 7, nearly one-third were re­lated to the re­li­gious gathering at the Markaz, Delhi. Thus, in or­der to avoid any sim­i­lar in­stances of out­break of Covid-19 cases, a re­li­gious gathering in the na­ture of Rath Ya­tra festival ought to be avoided,” the pe­ti­tion had read.

“Re­gard­ing the dan­ger pre­sented by such a large gathering of peo­ple for the Rath Ya­tra, we con­sider it ap­pro­pri­ate in the in­ter­ests of pub­lic health and safety of cit­i­zens who are devo­tees to re­strain the re­spon­dents (state and dis­trict author­i­ties and manag­ing com­mit­tee of Ja­gan­natha tem­ple) from hold­ing the Rath Ya­tra this year,” the bench headed by Chief Jus­tice of In­dia (CJI) SA Bobde had or­dered.

The court had also di­rected that no such Rath Ya­tra should be al­lowed in any other part of Odisha. Mohapatra pointed out that the Rath Ya­tra has been con­ducted in all cir­cum­stances, in­clud­ing dur­ing the Span­ish Flu pan­demic in 1918.

“The Rath Ya­tra is an es­sen­tial, manda­tory, in­te­gral and in­dis­pens­able re­li­gious prac­tice which has scrip­tural sanc­tion. Non-con­duct of the Rath Ya­tra has con­se­quences not only for the sanc­tity of the tem­ple but also for the so­ci­ety in gen­eral,” his ap­pli­ca­tion read.

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