The COVID-19 scare has left the ISKCON in a quandary about holding its annual Ratha Yatra festival at its global headquarters at Mayapur in West Bengal and in the city. Taking out of Lord Jagannath and his divine siblings Lord Balabhadra and Subhadra Devi on rathas or chariots would involve the risk of contamination as a large number of devotees would flock to have a glimpse of the dieties, ISKCON spokesmen said.
The festival in which Lord Jagannath is scheduled to be held on June 23 this year.
We are yet to take a final decision. In the present situation any gathering seems impossible on Rath Yatra day.
This year the festival will be held on a low-key but all rituals will be carried out," Subrata Das, the spokesperson of International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), Mayapur, said on Friday.
"We are not sure how this annual trip of Lord Jagannath can be conducted maintaining the social distancing norms. We will formally announce our schedule later but you can say our celebrations will be scaled down in view of the present situation and government guidelines," he said.
The chariots of the three dieties are taken from the Jagannath temple at Rajapur to Mayapur Dham, a distance of six km in Nadia district. Thousands gather on both sides of the road and jostle to touch the ropes of the chariot which is considered auspicious.
ISKCON, Kolkata, on Thursday decided that the chariots will not be taken out in the city's streets as is the practice.
Instead the deities will be taken from one part of the Albert Road temple complex to another in the same compound on Rath Yatra day, ISKCON, Kolkata, spokesman Radharaman Das said.
"We will follow all rituals, he said.
The annual 'Snan Yatra' (bathing festival) of Lord Jagannath, an important ritual held a fortnight before the Rath Yatra was held on Friday on a low key at ISKCON Mayapur.
It was marked by the absence of its devotees from the country and abroad due to the lockdown.
Das said that due to the novel coronavirus threat and restrictions on gatherings, the 'Snan Yatra' rituals were performed by priests in the temple as per the scriptures and none else was allowed inside.
No devotees were present at the 'Snan Yatra' at ISKCON Kolkata's Albert Road temple premises either. Only a handful of monks performed the rituals.
Snan Yatra, also known as the 'Devsnan Purnima, is a very special and sacred festival of Lord Jagannath held on the full-moon day in the month of 'Jyastha.'
It is believed that the devotee washes away all his sins if he gets a glimpse of Lord Jagannath on this day.