September 29, 2020

Odisha Channel Bureau
Bhubaneswar: With COVID-19 infections increasing among the priests and servitors, authorities of iconic Lord Jagannath temple in Odisha’s coastal town Puri are contending with a crisis – the possible shortage of sevayats to perform the daily rituals of the divine triads at the 12th century shrine.

The temple, a revered pilgrimage attraction for millions of Hindus, still remains out of bounds for the devotees since March 21 to contain the spread of the disease. The temple’s reopening in near future looks most unlikely as the authorities of Sri Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) have made it clear that it is in no mood to reopen the iconic temple in an affidavit furnished with the Orissa High Court.

The sanctum sanctorum of the temple does not have enough space. There are chances of spread of infection if the temple is allowed to open for devotees, the SJTA’s affidavit placed before the High Court yesterday reiterated.

Of the 2,200 servitors registered with the SJTA, as many as 351 have contracted the virus infection and five of them have succumbed to the contagion so far. Besides, 53 SJTA officials have also tested positive for the coronavirus.

“It’s definitely a disturbing development. However, the rituals of the deities are yet to be affected due to the increasing number of servitors getting infected with the novel coronavirus. Currently, the infected servitors include a number of Suar, Mahasuar, Daitapatis and Pujapandas. The infection is bound to spurt up and more and servitors will get infected if the temple is reopened for devotees. The puja rituals will be adversely affected if the virus infection catches more servitors,” said an official of SJTA.

Prior to the devotee-less Rath Yatra and Bahuda Yatra during June last, the Puri district administration had carried out COVID-19 tests of the servitors and close family members twice.

During the tests conducted ahead of the car festival, only a couple of servitors had tested positive. But the rate infection among the servitors has steadily risen since then as Puri town witnessed a spike in positive cases.

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