New Delhi: Days after the Supreme Court put on hold this year’s Rath Yatra at the Jagannath Temple, a centuries-old festival held in Odisha, eighteen applications have been filed with the top court seeking to modify the order.
The applications have accused the state government of not placing correct facts before the court.
Twelve of these applications were filed Saturday, while eight were moved Sunday. They have been listed for a hearing in the chambers of Justice S. Ravindra Bhat Monday.
On 18 June, a bench led by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde had barred the Rath Yatra, which was to commence on 23 June, in view of the threat posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The order came in response to a petition filed by the NGO Odisha Vikas Parishad against the state high court order that left it to the Odisha government to take a call on the yatra. The state refrained from taking a stand, leaving it to the court to decide.
The Jagannath Rath Yatra lasts for 10 to 12 days and involves a procession of chariots carrying the Hindu deity Lord Jagannath, his brother Lord Balabhadra and sister Devi Subhadra.
The petitioner asking for a modification of the court order include the hereditary chief servitor of the Shree Jagannath Temple, Janardhan Pattajoshi Mohapatra, and even a Muslim applicant.
All the applicants accused the state of hiding the fact that a pre-festival ritual was performed on 5 June with the help of 800 servitors, who had quarantined themselves for a month to prepare for the ritual and the yatra.
Before performing the ritual, all had tested negative for Covid-19, the court was told.
The applicants have asked the court to allow 500 persons to gather for the procession, to pull the three chariots on the first day.
For the remaining days, they said, only the rituals inside the temple should be allowed, and the state can impose prohibitory orders against a gathering outside.
300 workers lived in isolation for a month to prepare for festival
In its order to stop all rituals and activities associated with the yatra, the Supreme Court had noted that the festival could lead to a congregation of more than 10 lakh devotees, and that would be a violation of social distancing norms, besides compromising public health and safety.
The bench quoted Article 25 to say that the Constitution gave freedom to profess one’s religion subject to public morality, order and health.
However, the applications insist the 300-year-old festival is an essential, mandatory, integral and indispensable religious practice that has “scriptural sanction” protected by the Constitution.
According to them, as part of scaled down and controlled preparations, the entire construction activity of the chariots took place in a protected environment.
Over 300 workers engaged in the construction were subjected to Covid-19 tests and only on being declared negative were they allowed to work. They had been kept in isolation for more than a month.
As many as 1,304 people, who are involved with the yatra preparations, have been in isolation for more than one-and-a-half months, claimed the applicants.
Discontinuing will stall the yatra for next 12 years
Some age-old traditions have also been cited in the recall applications, to convince the court to allow the festival.
An applicant claimed the yatra is considered as a good fortune, and will be auspicious “especially during the pandemic”.
Discontinuing of the religious tradition would ritually mandate its stalling for the next 12 years, submitted the Muslim applicant, who hails from Itanati in Odisha’s Nayaghar district.
He quoted the Puranas, the Bhagvad Gita and cited age-old traditions on the yatra in his plea.
“Rath yatra is dearest to the people of Orissa as it relates to culture, tradition, health and prosperity of mankind and self-respect of Odias irrespective of their caste, creed and religion,” read the devotee’s intervention.