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Puri: On the occasion of Deva Snana Purnima, Lord Jagannath embarked on his annual 'Snana Yatra' in Puri's Jagannath Temple on Friday, in the absence of the usual throng of thousands of devotees, due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

For the first time, the bathing rituals began with no worshippers at the temple during the annual Snana Poornima festival. According to the District Magistrate of Puri no devotees have been allowed at the festival.

"Once a year at Jagannath temple, Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra are seated on an altar in the Snana Mandap. They are bathed with 108 pitchers of scented water, from a golden well of Srimandir, while hymns are read. The Gajapati Maharaja and his representatives perform Cherapahara rituals," said Sarat Kumar Mohanty, a scholar and priest at the temple.

After bathing by hundreds of priests, the Lord(s) are decorated as Gajanan or 'Hathi Bhesha', said Mohanty.

All priests performing the rituals were tested for COVID-19 before Snana Purnima. Priests, aged above 60 years, were not allowed to participate.

"Every year, 10-12 lakh devotees arrive at the temple for the darshans of the three deities who take bath with 108 pots of water. The rituals began from eight in the morning," said Sarat Kumar Mohanty.

Due to lockdown imposed to curb the spread of novel coronavirus, the devotees were not allowed.
"Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) has been promulgated around the Jagannath temple to contain the spread of infection. People are cooperating with us," said Balwant Singh, District Magistrate, Puri.

However, a few devotees were seen offering darshans from a distance.

"I feel lucky that I have been able to come here during these testing times. I am happy and feel blessed to witness the darshan in person," said Suresh Gupta, a devotee from Bhadrak in Odisha. 

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