Mayapur, June 22: Iskcon authorities in Mayapur have decided to bring the chariot of Lord Jagannath onto the personal screens of millions of devotees worldwide this year, suspending — for the first time ever — the traditional Rath Yatra festival in the fallout of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
On June 23 and 24, the Lord Jagannath’s 108 attendant chariots will visit homes of devotees across six continents in virtual form. Iskcon sources said the move will allow for a token ‘darshan’ and ‘puja’ to be offered by devotees in the midst of ongoing worldwide turmoil.
The unique digital initiative, titled ‘Mercy on Wheels’, has been developed to avoid transmission of the coronavirus amid the traditional mass gathering that takes place on Rath Yatra in Mayapur. Every year, over 2 lakh devotees gather at the Iskcon hub to watch the Rath Yatra in person.
Last week, the Supreme Court in a landmark decision stayed this year’s Lord Jagannath’s Rath Yatra, in Puri, in the interest of public health and safety citing the gathering of over 10 lakh devotees on average. However, after a group of priests began a demonstration demanding that the festival be held as scheduled, Gajapati Dibyasingh Deb, the titular king of Puri, approached Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to make an appeal before the apex court for a modification to the order. In Bengal, the centuries-old Rath Yatra in Hooghly’s Mahesh has also been suspended for the same reasons.
Iskcon spokesperson Subroto Das said this week, “The safety of devotees and visitors is of utmost importance to us. So the 6 km chariot ride of Lord Jagannath from Rajapur has been suspended, and instead, it has been made an indoor affair with restricted access. But the digital format – Mercy on Wheels – will help the devotees to have a darshan and offer puja”.
Iskcon sources said the digital endeavor was envisaged as a journey of purification by Lord Jagannath in the face of Covid-19, in which 108 virtual chariots will be rolled out and will reach devotees’ homes across the world on June, from 10 am IST on June 23 to 7.30 am the next day.
“In the digital format, devotees can log in on one of the web conferencing platforms and the virtual Ratha will be created through graphic simulation for darshan, offering aarati and bhoga to the deities, and also to collect blessings in the virtual form”, spokesperson Subroto Das said.
Das added that in order to welcome Lord Jagannath at their homes, devotees would need to register on the dedicated website (www.mercyonwheel.com).
A member of Iskcon’s digital team explained, “Once the registration is completed, a unique code will be provided to the devotee with which he will access the platform further to know the expected time that the Chariot will roll into his home”.
“Once the deity of Lord Jagannath is seated on the Chariot by 10 am on June 23, inside the Chandradaya temple premise, the virtual simulation will begin. 108 chariots controlled by separate coordinators will cover 6 continents on the virtual platform within just 24 hours as per the local time zones and will reach the homes of the devotees”, a member of the digital team added.
“This is a digitally-coded programme. So, only devotees who are registered on the platform will be able to see the Rath on the screen and pull it too through virtual simulation. They can also offer puja at a specific time before that. The entire programme will be synchronized by the digital team from Mayapur,” said spokesperson Subroto Das, adding that devotees from nearly 80 countries had already registered.