The chariots of the gods are not to roll in this year of pestilence. The Supreme Court’s decision to disallow the annual Rath Yatra in Puri in view of the pandemic has left millions of Jagannath devotees disappointed. The angry consensus: the Odisha government did not try to convince the apex court about even a token yatra, minus devotees. “I am devastated. The last time the rath yatra was not held was nearly 300 years ago due to external aggression” says Laxmidhar Behera in Bhubaneswar. Many others broke into tears when the news was broken to them.
Acting on a petition seeking a stay on the yatra filed by Odisha Vikash Parishad, a three-judge SC bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde said on June 18: “We consider it appropriate in the interest of public health…to restrain respondents from holding the Rath Yatra this year.” The bench rejected repeated pleas, including that of solicitor-general Tushar Mehta. “Lord Jagannath will not forgive us if we allow this…. Activities related to the Rath Yatra are injuncted,” Bobde noted with finality.
Preparations were on for Odisha’s biggest religious festival, including the making of the chariots, in anticipation of a token yatra. Many are convinced that the government was behind the Parishad petition. “How else could a little known organisation afford a lawyer like Mukul Rohatgi?” asks a devotee.
By Sandeep Sahu in Bhubaneswar