Odisha government finds itself in a Hamlet like dilemma over the highly sensitive issue of holding the world famous annual Rath Yatra (car festival) at Puri. It has been extremely cautious in permitting pre-event rituals amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the suspense has built up as the D-Day , 23 June when the three magnificent chariots are to be pulled approaches. The government has not taken a final decision as yet.
The Shree Jagannath Temple Managing Committee has, since weeks, stated categorically that preparations are on track and it is for the state government to take a final call.
From the onset the state government adopted a strategy of keeping things going and biding for time to assess the Covid situation till the very last moment. Voices of life gaining precedence were heard last month.
But with the chandan yatra, snan yatra and construction of chariots taking place despite the lockdown, hopes of rath yatra being performed were ignited.
The rath yatra can be held sans devotees just like the snan yatra was done.
Servitors and police can pull the three chariots, said several members of the all important temple managing committee. The servitors and the traditional carpenters who built the chariots were all subjected to Covid-19 tests.
The servitors too held the same view and submitted curtailed list of persons required for the famous car festival of Lord Jagannath, Goddess Subhadra and Lord Balabadra. But all of them put the ball in the court of the state government and waited for a decision.
A few important servitors insist that calling off the rath yatra would be bad while others spoke on the same lines saying it would mean suspension of all rituals right through the year till the next rath yatra.
The government has been constantly in touch with the servitors, managing committee members, Gajapati Maharaja of Puri and on a couple of occasions with the Sankaracharya of Puri. Odisha government issued a blanket ban on places of worship and religious congregations till 30 June.
This despite the central government guideline of opening places of worship since 8 June. Now it has to modify the order if it were to conduct the rath yatra. Meanwhile, petitions were filed in the High Court which adjudged that it is for the government to decide.
The court also shared the view that use of elephants or machines to pull the chariots can be considered. Significantly, the matter is now gone to the Supreme Court which is likely to hear it on Friday.
There are at least three petitions both in favour and against holding the rath yatra. From a national perspective rath yatra is held in several parts of the country including Delhi, West Bengal and more sensitive Ahmedabad.
Allowing Puri rath yatra to take place and disallowing it at other places or disallowing it at Puri and allowing elsewhere would be dicey . For the Naveen Patnaik government it is a Hamlet like situation with huge sentimental issues involved. Incidentally Puri has a tally of 188 Covid positive cases and its set of containment zones.
It will still be historic as the town will be sealed and the chariots drawn by servitors, policemen minus the lakhs of devotees that throng the Grand Road. If it is not held, it will still go down in history as the first-ever suspension of the event since Independence.