Odisha: Now, Puri administration bans Kaunriya Kathi ritual at Jagannatha Temple during Diwali this year

Yet another Hindu ritual is facing the axe from government authorities, ostensibly to ‘control air pollution’ to combat Covid-19 pandemic.

The district administration of Puri has banned the age-old ritual of burning of Kaunriya Kathi (jute sticks) in front of the Singhadwar (Lion Gate), the main gate to the Sri Jagannatha Temple, during Diwali this year.

As per Odisha TV, the decision to ban the practice this year was taken to prevent ‘air pollution’ caused by the smoke that emanates from the burning of the jute sticks which could possibly aggravate the Covid-19 situation. Keeping this in mind, the administration has urged people to only observe ‘Paya Sraddha’ (homage to ancestors) and return home without lighting Kaunriya Kathis.

People can observe ‘Paya Sraddha’ as usual to pay obeisance to their ancestors, but will not be allowed to burn Kaunriya Kathi outside the Srimandir (Sri Jagannath temple), informed Puri Sub-Collector Bhabataran Sahu.

“As there is possibility of huge smoke due to burning of Kaunriya Kathi, the ritual has been completely banned this year to prevent worsening of the pandemic situation. Covid-19 patients as well as others will be affected by the smoke. Therefore, we urge the people to perform rituals at their home, if possible,” Sahu said.

The holy town of Puri witnesses a huge gathering on the day of Diwali as Hindus observe ‘Badabadua Daka’ to pay obeisance to their ancestors. Hundreds of people gather around Srimandir on the evening of Diwali and perform Paya Sraddha and light Kaunriya Kathi.

The burning of jute sticks is accompanied by a prayer ‘Badabadua Ho Andhaare Aasa, Aalua Re Jao’ (Ancestors, come in darkness and go back along the lighted path).

Incidentally, Odisha TV is facing what many are calling a witch-hunt by the Naveen Patanaik-led Odisha government. Several executives of the channel who have been arrested in various cases are allegedly being intimidated into resigning while in police custody. This harassment has chilling parallels to the way Maharashtra’s MVA government is going after Republic TV.

In the last few weeks, firecrackers have already been banned in Odisha and many other states and cities of Bharat this Diwali – either due to government decisions, court rulings or NGT (National Green Tribunal) directives – with the reasoning that bursting crackers will cause air pollution which is harmful to Covid-19 patients.

But authorities are silent on other economic activities, that cause far greater pollution, which have been permitted in last two months as Covid-19 lockdowns were eased. The annual air pollution crisis in Delhi-NCR has made its presence felt this year as well, much before Diwali, due to unrestrained stubble burning by farmers, particularly in Punjab. But cracking the whip on errant farmers is a political hot potato no government or party wants to handle.

The economic cost on those involved in the firecracker business has been completely ignored in the recent wave of rulings against Diwali crackers. Traders, who were issued licenses by the same authorities just weeks back, and bought crores worth of cracker stocks, are now facing financial ruin across the nation. The Sivakasi cracker industry, most of whose workers are poor SC and OBC Hindus, is facing decimation – vocal for local, anyone?

Odisha seems to have taken things to an extreme in cracking down on Diwali celebrations in the name of combating Covid-19. Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) recently banned the roadside sales of earthern Diwali diyas and compelled poor vendors to apply for permission to sell their wares in government-approved stalls – this was done to prevent ‘crowding’ keeping Covid-19 pandemic in mind.

Puri Sub-Collector Bhabataran Sahu’s words that smoke from crackers will ‘affect others as well’ (not just Covid-19 patients) might prove prophetic – was 2019 the last Diwali where Hindus not living in Delhi-NCR were able to celebrate normally? Are we now looking at a permanent pan-Bharat curb on Diwali crackers and celebrations?


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