After the Supreme Court stayed Lord Jagannath's Rath Yatra this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Shree Jagannath Temple Managing Committee (SJTMC) on Friday said modalities of conducting rituals within the premises of the 12th-century shrine in Puri will be finalised after consultation with the Shankaracharya on Saturday.
Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb, who is also the chairperson of the SJTMC, that takes decisions on temple matters, said the committee feels there is no point in making any further delay and modalities should be prepared in consultation with servitors, scholars and pundits.
The committee held a meeting with its members during the day and later engaged in marathon deliberations with the temple servitors of different groups, Puri district administration and senior officials of Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA). The meeting continued till late in the night.
The committee is scheduled to meet Puri Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati on Saturday before taking any final decision on holding the rituals inside the temple premises in absence of devotees as was done in the case of Akshaya Tritiya and Chandan Jatra.
Though the Shankaracharya and all the servitors have urged the apex court to reconsider its order and allow holding the Rath Yatra this year with no devotees in attendance, Gajapati Maharaja Deb was sceptical.
"There is no point in making a further attempt to hold the usual Rath Yatra this year as the state government has accepted the SC order. We had earlier given such a proposal to the state government for holding the Rath Yatra without the devotees and adopting adequate precautions against COVID-19, but the administration did not accept it," he said.
On whether the committee will file a modification petition in the apex court, Deb said, "After the state cabinet's decision to follow the Supreme Court order, there is no feasibility of filing a plea seeking reconsideration of the decision."
In extraordinary situations, extraordinary decisions have to be taken, he said, adding arrangements will be made in accordance with religious tradition of the temple on advice of servitors and the Shankaracharya as the temple's record of rites and rituals mentions nothing about it.
Deb also said that under the changed circumstances, the rituals of chariot pulling, return car festival, Suna Bhesa (golden attire of Lord), adhar pana and Niladri Bije could not take place this year.
Meanwhile, a plea was filed in the Supreme Court seeking recall of its order staying this year's Puri Ratha Yatra.
The petitioner -- Jagannath Sanskruti Jana Jagarana Manch -- prayed to the court saying the rituals may be performed with help of 500-600 servitors by following COVID-19 guidelines, maintaining social distancing and with certain conditions.
Earlier, the Shankaracharya and some priests insisted that the Supreme Court should "reconsider" its decision to stay the Rath Yatra, and allow servitors to observe the festival with precautions.
Maintaining that the apex court had rightly halted the 'Mega Parab', amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Shankaracharya said the decision to stall the Rath Yatra, however, could be re-evaluated, "allowing only a handful of servitors to conduct the ceremony".
"Devotees can watch the rituals on television this year," he said.
The nine-day festival is usually marked by a procession of chariots, in which three deities -- Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra -- embark on an annual journey to Gundicha temple and back.
"It seems that the Supreme Court was not properly apprised of the preparations made by temple administration and the Odisha government for the June 23 Rath Yatra," Chattisa Nijog, a body of priests, said in a letter to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
The cancellation of the annual festival will adversely affect all future rituals, offerings and festivals, said Rajkishore Daitapaty.
"The Centre had allowed chariot construction for the festival, and accordingly all arrangements were made, with carpenters and servitors made to undergo health screening from time to time. With just four days to go before the festival, the state government should immediately move the apex court seeking a modification of its order," the Nijog added.
The apex court had on Thursday stayed the Rath Yatra, which was scheduled to begin on June 23, and all activities related to the festival, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Odisha cabinet, during an emergency meeting on Thursday night, passed a resolution, asking Shree Jagannath Temple Managing Committee (SJTMC) to carry out rituals inside the Puri shrine, in accordance with the direction of the court.
Meanwhile, a dawn-to-dusk Puri bandh called by two organisations -- Srijagannath Sena and Srikshetra Suraksha Bahini -- evoked partial response in the pilgrim town.