Amid a statewide emotional breakdown for devotees over the Supreme Court's stay on the annual Lord Jagannath Ratha Jatra, Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb said on Thursday that though it was painful, all should abide by the verdict.
Gajapati Maharaja, considered to be the first servitor of Lord Jagannath, said that in the past as well the Rath Jatra could not be celebrated in the wake of invasions by Mughal rulers.
Mahaprabhu's devotees across the world will be hurt and feel pain, but everyone has to obey the apex court's verdict, he said. "It is the responsibility of all to go by the order."
Gajapati Maharaja, who is also the chairman of the Shree Jagannath Temple Managing Committee, said the body will meet on Friday to discuss the Supreme Court's verdict on not celebrating the Rath Jatra on June 23 across Odisha, including Puri.
"If the Ratha Jatra is not held outside the temple premises in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will discuss whether the rituals could be performed inside the temple. We will take up the matter with Shankaracharya of Puri and seek his guidance before taking any decision on the next course of action," the Maharaja said.
He said that due to Mughal invasions in the past, the deities were shifted out of the 12th century shrine for safety as a result of which Ratha Jatra could not be held.
The state government considers that a similar situation has arisen due to the coronavirus outbreak due to which the Ratha Jatra could not be conducted this time, the Maharaja said.
The Gajapati Maharaja is the erstwhile king of Puri and he is considered the "Aadyasevak" or the first servitor of Lord Jagannath. He is also referred to as Thakur Raja of Puri.
The Supreme Court stayed the Rath Jatra and related activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that "Lord Jagannath won't forgive us if we allow" it.
Devotees in Puri and other parts of Odisha broke into tears and said that top court should reconsider its decision.
Premananda Dasmohapatra, a servitor, said, "What can we do apart from shedding tears? The Supreme Court is supreme and there is none above it. The decision has severely hurt us."
BJP state president Samit Mohanty said that all have to accept the verdict though it is a "strong" decision.
"This (verdict) could be the wishes of the Lord Jagannath," he said. "We have to accept the court verdict even if it is difficult."
Congress MLA Taraprasad Bahinipati said the state government's "attempt has been successful".
He said the state government was not in the favour of conducting the festival in view of the likely congregation of a large number of devotees.
"At the same time, the state government was apprehensive of public ire if it stopped the Ratha Jatra. Now, the apex court has put a halt," Bahinipati said.
Senior BJD leader and MLA Dibi Prasad Mishra said the state government will examine the SC order.
"We have not seen the judgement copy. The law department will examine it," he said.
A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and A S Bopanna said that in the interest of public health and safety of citizens, this year's Rath Jatra can't be allowed.
"Lord Jagannath won't forgive us if we allow this year's Rath Yatra to go on," CJI Bobde said, adding that such a huge gathering can't take place during the pandemic.
The bench asked the Odisha government not to allow the pilgrimage procession and the related activities anywhere in the state to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.
Rath Jatra, which continues for 10 to 12 days, is attended by lakhs of devotees from across the world.
The three heavily-built wooden chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra are traditionally pulled by thousands of devotees over a distance of three kilometres twice during the nine-day festival of the Trinity at Puri.
While the festival was scheduled for June 23, the 'Bahuda Jatra' (return car festival) was fixed for July 1.