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Religious Festivals to be permitted in ‘limited’ capacity in India

Indian Hindu devotees pull a chariot during Rath Yatra in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, on July 4, 2019.

Thousands of devout Indians are expected to partake in one of the country’s most celebrated religious processions on Tuesday. The country’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of organizing the annual spectacle amid Coronavirus concerns.

The Rath Yatra festival, which takes place in the coastal city of Puri in the western state of Odisha, celebrates the Indian deity of Jagannath and lasts for more than a week.

The Hindu celebrations were previously denied by the Supreme Court fearing the risk of the currently prevailing pandemic in the country. However, the Odisha state government promised to conduct the festival in a “limited way,” and asked the court for a injunction, leading to the Supreme Court overturning its own order on Monday.

Indian devotees dance during Rath Yatra celebrations in Siliguri, West Bengal, on July 4, 2019.

The ceremony consists of three lavishly decorated chariots pulled through the streets, with participants parading alongside through the city roads. The “chariots”,

which typically reach 45-feet-high (13.7 meters) are made of wood while being decorated in red and gold cloths, which carry priests through the crowds.

People from all over India attend the festival in order to pray, dance, sing and play music during the celebrations.

Rath Yatra participants pull a chariot in Allahabad,
Uttar Pradesh, on July 4, 2019.

But this year, only essential people like those who perform the rituals and pull the chariots will be allowed in the procession, in an attempt to keep attendance numbers low.

The Supreme Court earlier ordered that each chariot can be pulled by a maximum of 500 people. Despite the substantial number the chariots are generally pulled by a significantly larger number. This year though the three chariots will be pulled by 1,500 devotees, which still poses a massive risk.

The court has also asked the state government to seal all entry points to the city during the festival and to impose a citywide curfew.

An Indian elephant is painted ahead of the annual Hindu festival Rath Yatra in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, on July 3, 2019.

Local and federal government members praised the courts for permitting the ‘Rath Yatra’. Union Home Minister Amit Shah considers it a ‘special day’, stating that he was “delighted by the decision of the Honourable Supreme Court.”

“It makes me, as well as crores of devotees across India happy that (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) not only understood the sentiment of the devotees but also initiated consultations which ensured that the great traditions of our land are observed,” Shah tweeted. “Congratulations to the people of Odisha.”

The festival and the court ruling comes as the country struggles to contain the spread of the coronavirus. On Monday, India said it had recorded 14,821 new cases in the past day — marking the fifth straight day of more than 12,000 new daily cases.

The country has seen more than 100,000 new cases in the past eight days, according to the figures from the health ministry.

Mumbai, the most populous city in the country, has been the hardest hit, making up about a fifth of all cases nationwide. Odisha, where the festival will take place, has recorded a total of 5,160 cases, including 14 deaths.

In total, India has recorded 440,215 cases, including 178,014 active cases, 14,011 deaths and 248,189 recoveries.

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