The annual festival of Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra began today (June 24) with Snana Purnima. On this day, it is considered auspicious to bathe in the holy water and begin the jalyatra. The festival is celebrated by worshipping Lord Jagannath (ruler of the world), his elder brother Balbhadra (Balaram) and sister Subhadra. Three giant wooden chariots are made of a kind of Neem tree for the deities for the yatra. Due to the Covid19 pandemic, the celebrations are restricted and no devotees are allowed. However, every year, hundreds of people arrive in Puri to seek blessings at the Jagannath temple in Odisha and participate in the rath yatra.
Ahead of the annual festival, the temple in Puri was illuminated on Wednesday evening. The gates of the 11th-century temple will open on June 25 after several weeks of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the pandemic, the day will be observed without devotees. Instead, the festival will be live-streamed across the world. Only fully vaccinated people with COVID negative reports are allowed in the temple, Chief Administrator of the temple Dr Krishan Kumar informed.
"There will be no gathering outside the temple has Sec 144 will be enforced by district administration. We'll just follow traditional rituals. After this, Lord Jagannath will take rest for 15 days and reappear during Rath Yatra," Kumar said.
The beginning of the Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra dates back to 143 years ago. For the first time in the temple's 143 years history, last year the rath yatra was not allowed due to covid restriction. This year as well, strict covid safety rules have been announced. The public movement has been prohibited from 10 PM and several police vehicles are patrolling the area.
According to Samarth Varma, District Magistrate of Puri, Pahandi rituals will start around 1 am and Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra will reach the Snana mandap. "Once in a year, God comes outside so that people of other religions can get 'darshan'. So lakhs of people gathered every year outside the temple every year. This year, however, the thousand-year ritual will be performed witnessed virtually," Varma said.