The Shree Jagannath Temple Managing Committee resolved to go ahead with construction of the chariots for the famous Puri Rath Yatra as it is "not a religious function", even as uncertainty loomed over the annual festival scheduled for June 23 due to the ongoing coronavirus lockdown.
The decision was taken at a committee meeting chaired by Gajapati Maharaja of Puri Dibya Singha Deb.
The chariot construction is yet to start due to lockdown, though Akshyay Tritiya and Chandan Jatra rituals, marking the beginning of preparations for the yatra, were held inside the premises of the 12th-century shrine on April 26.
The management committee unanimously decided to go for chariot construction as it is not a religious function, rather an activity associated with construction, Deb told reporters, adding construction activities have been allowed by the Ministry of Home Affairs in all three zones-- red, orange and green-- during the lockdown.
The Gajapati, however, made it clear that the final decision on the rath yatra will be taken by the state government.
He said the pilgrim town comes under the green zone as no Covid-19 case has been reported there and therefore there should be no restriction on the construction activities.
The committee contended that the chariots would be constructed at Rath Khala, a designated site near the temple administration office in front of the Puri King''s palace, and not any public place, he said.
"This Rath Khala is not a public place, but belongs to the Lord and construction of chariots is not a religious ceremony," he said.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had last month held discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on uncertainty over organising the rath yatra because of the pandemic.
The Gajapati had said a decision on holding the mega festival would be taken in accordance with new guidelines after May 3.
Since the lockdown was extended by two weeks, the managing committee took the decision as construction of chariots should not be delayed any further if the annual rath yatra of the Lord is to be held.
Deb said the religious rituals associated with the chariot construction have already been performed inside the temple premises as suggested by Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati.
Another religious activity is to be held after chariots are constructed, he said.
"The managing committee felt that chariot construction will not violate the lockdown norms. It will be conducted as per the guidelines for maintaining social distance among the carpenters to be engaged in the chariot making," the Gajapati said.
Deb said the temple has already lost at least eight days and suspended the chariot-making process from April 26 to May 4 while respecting the lockdown norms.
He said the temple committee will apprise the state government about its decision. The government is to give the final permission before beginning of the chariot making.
There was, however, no word from the government so far regarding the chariot construction.
Earlier, two prominent Nijogs (servitors bodies) had appealed to the chief minister to not stop the annual rath yatra as it is linked to the emotions of lakhs of devotees across the globe. They said the festival can be organised on a limited scale with adequate precautionary measures.
Around 10 lakh devotees from across the country and abroad throng the seaside pilgrim town of Puri during the rath yatra every year to have a glimpse of the Lord outside the temple.