Rath Yatra to be held without pomp and splendour in Bengal this year

Kolkata, Jun 21 (PTI) The Rath Yatra is set to be a low-key affair in West Bengal this year, as several organising committees of the annual car festival have called off festivities to avoid public gatherings in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKON) here has already scrapped its plan to take out chariots of Lord Jagannath and his divine siblings Lord Balabhadra and Subhadra Devi as this involves the risk of contamination with a large number of devotees assembling to have a glimpse of the deities.

The festival is scheduled to be held on June 23 this year.

The ISKON authorities have decided not to allow devotees inside its Albert Road temple premises here, where the deities will be kept and rituals performed on next Tuesday in the presence of servitors only, its spokesman Radharaman Das told PTI.

'We had initially decided to allow a very small number of devotees inside the temple compound during the rituals on June 23. Following the Supreme Court's stay on the Rath Yatra in Puri, we have now made a decision that no devotee will be allowed inside our temple on that day,' Das said.

Priests and a handful of its staff will pull a one- foot high chariot inside the temple compound as a symbolic Rath Yatra, he said.

The devotees will, however, be able to witness the rituals live on social media, Das said.

'We are sad that the rituals will be performed without any fanfare this year. But there is no other way in the present circumstances,' he said.

The 624-year-old Mahesh Rath Yatra, stated to be the second-oldest after Puri, will not take place this year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Piyal Adhikary, working secretary and managing 'sevayat' of the Jagannath Temple committee, Mahesh in Hooghly district, said no devotee will be allowed to enter the temple where Lord Jagannath and his two siblings will be worshipped.

The authorities of ISKON, Mayapur, the global headquarters of the organisation, will hold a digital Rath Yatra this year.

A novel initiative -'Mercy on Wheels'- will enable devotees across six continents to participate in the digital Rath Yatra by logging in for free.

'Every year, the Rath Yatra at Mayapur Dham is a grand carnival and draws close to 2 lakh people. Usually, the chariots are pulled covering a 6-km stretch from ISKCON Rajapur temple to Chandradaya. This time, this will not be organised due to the current pandemic,' spokesperson Subrata Das said.

The safety of the visitors and devotees is most important to the authorities, he said.

'While they will not be able to witness the pulling of chariots, we are reaching out to each devotee through digital media,' he said.

Organisers of the annual car festival in Belgharia's Rathtala, Madhab Bari in Hatibagan, Sodepur Hindu Milan Mandir among others have also cancelled all celebrations this year.

'We have been advised by the administration not to take out the chariots. We will not be celebrating Rath Yatra this time,' Dinabandhu Chakraborty of the Sodepur Hindu Milan Mandir said. PTI SUS BDC BDC