The Show Must Go On: Pandemic Can Not Dampen the Faith On Juggernaut

Puri: Nobody can stop time and transformation cannot be brought to an end. Everything depends on the blessings of the lord. While the Covid pandemic has brought the lifeline to a standstill for the last one and a half years, some things continued to happen just as the rituals of Sri Jagannath Temple and the transformation of Puri into a world heritage city. The hammering and sawing sounds from the Ratha Khala remind us that the world famous Ratha Yatra is approaching fast. This year too the juggernaut will roll on the Badadanda albeit without congregation and in strict adherence to social distancing. Amidst the pandemic, both the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration and the District administration are leaving no stones unturned to keep alive the spirit of devotion and trust. While the preparations for the grand Ratha Yatra is in full swing, the city is silently undergoing a transformation. The ambitious Heritage Corridor Project to transform Puri into a World Heritage City under the close monitoring of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and 5T Secretary VK Pandian is slowly taking shape and the outcome has already amazed everybody. Amidst the quietness forced by the pandemic, the city is experiencing development that was never seen in the land of Jagannath in the last few centuries and that too adhering to all the components of 5T Initiatives in each and every project.

The Juggernaut Will Roll On

Like every year, this year’s Ratha Yatra and the other associated rituals are going to be performed as per traditions. The Chattisa Nijoga along with the Temple Administration and other stakeholders have decided that the Ratha Yatra and the rituals such as Snana Purnima also known as Debasnan Purnima, Bahuda Yatra, Suna Besha and Niladri Bije will be conducted as per traditions. While the Snana Purnima will be held on June 24th, Ratha Yatra will be conducted on July12th. All these rituals will be conducted without the congregation of devotees and only a limited number of servitors will be allowed in view of Covid infections. Likewise, Bahuda, Suna Besha and Niladri Bije will be held on 20th July, 21st July and 23rd July respectively. The administration has also decided that along with the servitors, all police officials and administrative officials will have to go for mandatory Covid tests and only negative tested people only be allowed to participate in the festivities. All the servitors will have to undergo four rounds of Covid-19 test – before Snana Purnima, before Gundicha Yatra, before Bahuda Yatra and finally 15 days after Niladri Bije. While the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration is fine tuning the Ratha Yatra Planning, elsewhere, the district police is busy finalising a blue print for law and order. The role of police assumes significance as no devotee is allowed to gather in the temple town. On Tuesday, a detailed briefing of all officers as per police arrangement was done for the auspicious Debasnana Purnima. According to Samarth Verma, Collector Puri, “We are taking every care to keep the servitors away from the infections. Special testing facilities have been made for them and the Sebakas involved in the making of the chariots. We have also prioritised the vaccination of the servitors as the Ratha Yatra is nearing. The administration is fully prepared to conduct the Ratha Yatra adhering to all Covid norms.”

Bio-Bubble and The Sounds of the Hammers and Saws

Keeping in view the Covid situation, the Jagannath Temple Administration has made elaborate arrangements to safeguard the carpenters engaged in the construction of the Chariots. While priority vaccination has been planned for all of them, all precautions are being made to keep them away from the virus. The Ratha Khala today is active with the busy works of 198 carpenters including, Maharana Sebakas, the Bhoi servitors, painters and artisans. A Bio Bubble was also created at the Ratha Khala to ensure that all remained unaffected by the virus. At the Ratha Khala, various activities such as the placing of Prathama Bhuin over the Chari Nahaka, fixing Chauda Nahaka, frame setting for Trutiya Bhuin of each chariot have been completed. The Kamaara Shaala is also active with the sounds of hammers making of Kana Bidia Kanta and Potala Ora Kanta for the Bhuin of the three chariots are completed. The Chitrakara Sebakas are busy in completing the Patti Dian that will be worshipped during the upcoming rituals of Anasara period. Major works relating to the chariots such as fixing of the wheels to the axles, Chaka Dera and Diga Nirnaya of the three chariots have also been completed at the right time. The making of the Sinhasana and Prabha Apasara has also been commenced.

The Transformation Continues

Amidst the lockdown, the transformation of the temple and the peripheral areas are continuing without any hindrances. The Temple Administration appointed two panels to supervise the silver plating of the doors of the centuries old temple.

While one of the Panels consisting of structural engineers and few servitors will look into the silver plating of eight prominent doors of the temple, the other one will ensure proper implementation of all this work. About two tons of Silver will be used to decorate the doors of the temple with artistic silver plates. The doors to be plated include the Jay Bijaya Dwar, Kalaahat Dwar, Beheran Dwar, Satapahach Dwar, west Bhog Mandap Dwar, Adi Narasingh Temple Dwar, Bimala Temple Dwar and Mahalaxmi Temple Dwar. A massive beautification drive is also planned during the Ratha Yatra time by the administration.

Away from the temple activities, a transformation is taking place in the temple town of Puri with regard to pilgrim amenities and other infrastructural developments. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s aim of transforming Puri into a World Heritage City is taking shape. The Shree Jagannath Temple Administration in association with the State Government and District Administration is creating various amenities for the pilgrims coming from all over the world. As part of this, the construction work of the Purushottam Bhakta Niwas is going on in full swing and will be completed by the end of the year. It will be the forth accommodation infrastructure for pilgrims after Nilachal Bhakta Niwas, Shree Gundicha Bhakta Niwas and Niladri Bhakta Niwas. These hotel-like accommodations will provide affordable stay with all amenities for the pilgrims. Being constructed at the Jail Road, the three-storied Purushottam Bhatka Niwas will have 138 rooms. They will be all air conditioned double occupancy and triple occupancy rooms.

Another important part of the city transformation plan under the Abadha Yojana is the state of the art multi-level car parking project. The project is coming up at the jail road and will have facilities for accommodating 500 cars and 500 two wheelers. It will greatly ease the parking problem at Badadanda and help hassle free movement of people to the Jagannath Temple. The much revered Swarga Dwara is also undergoing a significant transformation. While the Phase I development work of Swargadwars is complete, the Phase II will add more amenities to the modern crematorium. The Swarga Dwara has been re developed to accommodate 28 pyres at a time. The Municipal Market Complex redevelopment work, an important part of the Abadha scheme and the World Heritage City, is going on in full swing at the Badadanda. It is going to change the shopping experience of the pilgrims coming to the temple city. Also, as part of the city beautification plan, the Puri beachfront and the beach road of about 3kilometers is being developed under the Abadha scheme launched by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

The efforts for developing Puri into a World Class Heritage City will not be complete without an International Airport. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik took the initiative and requested the Union Government for establishment of the Shree Jagannath International Airport in Puri. The district administration swiftly swung into action and identified two probable sites for the same. The Airports Authority of India team that visited Puri recently was satisfied with the sites identified by the district administration. The efforts of the state government in this regard will definitely be fruitful in the coming days. An International Airport in Puri will herald a new era and help bring Jagannath devotees from across the world to Puri and thereby helping promote Jagannath culture across the world.

Speaking to NewsroomOdisha, Dr Krishan Kumar, Chief Administrator of Shree Jagannath Temple Administration, says that “Our aim is to provide the best of amenities to the pilgrims who are coming from all over the world. While some projects are nearing completion, others like Shree Setu project, Jagannath Ballav Pilgrim Center, Municipal Market redevelopment, Mahodadhi Market, Jail Road Multilevel Car Parking have started. Process is on to finalise projects for development of all five holy tanks, Affordable accommodation of pilgrims, Beach Road development and Badadanda Heritage program. These will also start during the year.”

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