Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik watched the live telecast of Lord Jagannath's Rath Yatra, which was held in Puri on Tuesday, at his office in the Lok Seva Bhawan here.
The historic rath yatra started without the usual sea of devotees and amid tight security in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, a day after the Supreme Court cleared the decks for the annual ritual.
Patnaik, who has preferred staying at his residence most of the time since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in March, for the first time visited his office to watch the yatra.
In a video released by the Chief Minister's Office, Patnaik is heard saying "Jai Jagannath" as the lord's Nadighosh chariot (rath) started rolling on the Bada Danda or Grand Road in Puri.
The chief minister is seen in the video offering prayers to Lord Jagannath with folded hands at his chamber in the bhawan. "Not a leaf moves without his will," he said and thanked the people, the servitors of the Shree Jagannath Temple and the administration for the smooth conduct of the yatra.
Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Lord Balabhadra and their sister Devi Subhadra on Tuesday set out for their annual nine-day sojourn to the Gundicha temple, nearly three kilometres away from the Jagannath Temple, in three wooden chariots draped in layers of red, black, green and yellow.
Chief ministers of Odisha traditionally visit Puri on the rath yatra day and pull the Nandighosh chariot as a mark of devotion towards Lord Jagannath. Since 2000, Patnaik has not missed visiting Puri on the day the chariots are pulled.
Beside the chief ministers, governors of Odisha, ministers and judges, among other dignitaries, attend the chariot pulling ceremony.
However, this time there were no VVIPs and people also did not attend the ritual in view of the COVID-19 pandemic and the state government's assurance to the Supreme Court to conduct a devotee-less festival.
"People may not have been present in Puri, but they got an opportunity to see the festival on television. This is no less than a blessing on them," Gajapati Maharaja of Puri, Dibyasingha Deb, who is also the chairperson of the Shree Jagannath Temple Managing Committee, said.
The servitors and police personnel who pulled the chariots were allowed to do so after they tested negative for the novel coronavirus.
Law Minister Pratap Jena, School and Mass Education Minister Samir Ranjan Dash and Health Minister N K Das who were sent to Puri to oversee preparations for the yatra also did not attend the chariot pulling ceremony.
The Gajapati Maharaja, who is considered as the first servitor of Lord Jagannath, said: "One should not consider that the lord comes out of the temple for the devotees waiting for him on Bada Danda. He comes out to give darshan to the entire world and therefore his name is 'Jaga-nnath'."
The lord leaves his sanctum sanctorum to give 'darshan' to all the living and non-living souls, he said.
Deb said according to the Skanda Purana, "even Gods like Brahma and Maheswar, come down to Puri to have a darshan of Lord Jagannath on the rath yatra day".
The Gajapati Maharaja performed his traditional 'Chhera Pahanra' (sweeping of the chariots with a golden broom) and said, "I prayed to the lord to save the human race from the COVID pandemic which has posed a danger on the life and livelihood of all the people across the globe."