Two starkly contradictory signals in the season of the pandemic were emitted from Odisha on Friday ~ one a testament to the profound rituals of a vigorous faith and the other relating to fatalities and fresh cases of positive afflictions.

While Puri scripted history a little over a fortnight before quite the most important festival of Rathayatra, the authorities of Jagannath temple conducted the curtain-raiser to the ritual of Snan Yatra despite the pandemic.

However, the jarring note must have been the absence of devotees who are normally chock-a-block in the temple complex in the weeks preceding the Rahthayatra and the ceremonial bathing of the presiding deities ~ Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra. Indeed, it is the people who are integral to the temple’s activities.

This is the first time in the history of the 12th century shrine that the annual festival was observed in the absence of devotees . The fact that servitors poured holy water on the idols was in itself a sight to behold.

Yet the visual published on the front page of this newspaper on Saturday reaffirms that the certitudes of social distancing were thrown to the wind, as was the mandatory stipulation of wearing masks, if not hand gloves as well. The sanctum sanctorum was crowded with servitors.

The risk of the Covid affliction spreading in the holy of holies has been dangerously real, less than a week after the shrines were reopened at the threshold of Phase 5 of the lockdown.

The bitter irony must be that the temple authorities consciously took the risk in the temple town so close to the state capital of Bhubaneswar, that was declared Covid-free only very recently ~ a tribute to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s health administration.

Yet in the overwhelming anxiety to craft history, the fundamental precautions were ignored on a day when no fewer than 130 fresh cases were reported, raising the number of total afflictions in Odisha to 2608. In parallel, the predominantly rural state recorded its eighth coronavirus fatality with a 63-year-old diabetic succumbing to the scourge.

It must be cause for alarm too that 124 of the 130 positive cases were reported from the quarantine centres that dot the districts. To that can be added the current fear of what they call “community transmission”. It isn’t only the three towns that were recently under curfew ~ Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Bhadrak ~ that have reported fresh cases.

Ever since Phase I of the lockdown was imposed on 25 March, there are at least eight districts where more than 100 cases have been registered. In less than three months, all 30 districts, have in varying degrees been infected.

It thus comes about that Ganjam tops the list with 533 cases, followed by Jajpur, Khurda, Balasore (nearest to Bengal), Kendrapara, Bhadrak, Cuttack and Bolangir. Beyond the showpiece state capital of Bhubaneswar, the pandemic cries out for a holistic battle. Somehow this has been a scarce quantity in Odisha.