The Shankaracharya of Puri, Swami Nischalananda Saraswati, on Sunday alleged that there was a well-orchestrated plan to stall Lord Jagannath's Rath Yatra this year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Puri seer's statement comes after Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb and servitors sought Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's intervention for rushing an application for modification of the Supreme Court's June 18 order that put a stay on Lord Jagannath's Rath Yatra on June 23.
They want the state government to seek permission from the Supreme Court for holding the car festival sans any congregation.
Dismayed over the cancellation of this year's Rath Yatra, the Shankaracharya said: "There is a well-orchestrated plan to stop the annual event".
In a video message, the Puri seer said: "On June 20, the Supreme Court could have accepted the review petitions seeking modification of its June 18 stay order. There are precedents of the apex court taking up important cases even during vacations."
Joining the chorus for allowing the Rath Yatra in Puri, Rajya Sabha MP and famous sculptor Raghunath Mohapatra alleged that the Supreme Court was given misleading information that there will be a congregation of 10-12 lakh people in Puri during the Yatra.
Based on this number, the apex court has put the stay, Mohapatra, who is also a member of the Shree Jagannath Temple Managing Committee, said.
Meanwhile, Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb in his letter to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has categorically said that holding Lord Jagannath's annual Rath Yatra in Puri is "sanctioned and mandated".
The Gajapati Maharaja said this quoting the sacred scriptures such as Skanda Purana, Brahma Purana, Neeladri Mahodaya and Bamadeba Samhita.
"These scriptures clearly state that Shree Shree Jagannatha Mahaprabhu (also referred to in the scriptures as Shree Purushottama) is the Supreme Lord. He is not an Avatara but the Avatari and the Shree Jagannath Dham is His Eternal Abode on this planet earth," Gajapati Maharaja, who is also the Chairman of the Shree Jagannath Temple Managing Committee said in the letter to the chief minister.
The Gajapati also made it clear that the Rath Yatra is not simply a tradition but a ritual being followed for centuries and cannot be stopped in any situation including one created due to the pandemic. He said the scale of celebration can be reduced, but the ritual should continue.
Earlier, the temple managing committee headed by him had also recommended to the state government to conduct a devotee less festival by sealing Puri town from all sides. The people can witness the festival through television, he said, adding that the state government has not accepted the proposal.
The rituals of Akshya Tritiya on April 26 and Chandan Yatra of the Lord have been performed in the temple premises in absence of the devotees.
"Since the Supreme Court was not given proper information, it chose to put a stay on the mega festival of the Lord," said Daitapati Nijog president Rabinda Dasmohapatra.
Meanwhile, BJP Odisha unit president Samir Mohanty said the state government should pay importance to what Gajapati Maharaja suggested and hold talks with Shankaracharya.
State Congress President Niranjan Patnaik said the present situation has been created as the state government "failed" to take any concrete decision regarding the Rath Yatra well in time.
Despite mounting pressure from many quarters, the state government is yet to respond to the demand for immediate steps to seek the apex court's permission for holding the Rath Yatra only in Puri by a limited number of servitors in the absence of devotees.
Meanwhile, BJP National Spokesperson Sambit Patra said he has filed an application for clarification/modification of the earlier order of the Supreme Court.
"Today I filled an application for clarification/modification of earlier order of SC and sought permission for the Holy Rath Yatra of Shri Jagannath Mahaprabhu in Puri scheduled for 23rd June Hope all our prayers are answered by the Lord of the Universe," he tweeted.
Patra had contested the last Lok Sabha election from Puri seat on BJP ticket but lost to BJD candidate Pinaki Mishra.
Puri BJP MLA Jayant Sarangi has also written a letter to the chief minister for holding of the Rath Yatra.
Multiple petitions have also been filed in the Supreme Court seeking necessary modification to the original stay order on the festival.
Among others, one Aftab Hossen, Odisha Jagannath Sanskruti Janjagran Manch, Daitapati Nijog and International Hindu Mahasangha have filed separate petitions in the apex court, seeking modification in its June 18 order.