India’s largest chariot festival began in the coastal town of Puri in Odisha without the usual throng of tens of thousands of devotees amid coronavirus concerns. The Rath Yatra (chariot trip) festival sees huge, colourful chariots wheeled to a temple about 2.5km away.
The Supreme Court first announced a ban on the festival citing coronavirus concerns but later modified its ruling saying the festival could be held with restrictions including a curfew in Puri during the two-week festival.
“All movement in the town is restricted from 6am to 9pm. The entire area around the temple and the route has been sanitised,” Puri district magistrate Balwant Singh said.
“Only those authorised are participating in the rituals and chariot-pulling. They will all wear masks and practise social distancing. No devotees will be allowed along the route.”
Video footage showed large numbers of temple workers and officials around the huge colourfully decorated chariots.
Most of them, including the musicians, wore masks but social distancing was not evident.
Barricades around the chariots and along the route were being manned by police.
The Odisha state government’s public relations department livestreamed the event for devotees.
Meanwhile, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said the state government has requested the advocate general (AG) to seek permission from the Gujarat High Court to allow the Ahmedabad RathYatra to pass.
“The Yatra has over a century old tradition and looking at the traditional procession, we have asked the Advocate General, Kamal Trivedi, to seek permission from the Gujarat High Court to allow the Ahmedabad Rath Yatra on the lines similar to the Supreme Court’s modified order on Odisha Jagannath Puri Yatra. The state government will abide by all the restrictions the Gujarat High Court will impose, to allow the procession to be carried out.”
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