Only one priest will be allowed to enter each temple to perform the rituals.

The Ganjam district administration has banned the Meru Jatra and congregations related to it at temples on Mahavishub Sankranti on Monday.

The Jatra marks the end of the 21-day festival of penance named “Danda Nata”. The Mahavishub Sankranti is also the start of the Odia New Year. Thousands of devotees gather at the Tara Tarini hill shrine and other temples.

Ganjam district Collector Vijay Amruta Kulange on Sunday said no temple would be opened for the Jatra. “There will be no Meru Jatra. Only one priest will be allowed to enter each temple to perform the rituals.” Earlier, the famous Chaitra festival at the Tara Tarini hill shrine that attracts lakhs of devotees had been banned.

The Collector advised citizens to remain in their homes and use social distancing to break the chain of the COVID-19 spread. According to him, strict legal action would be initiated against the violators of the lockdown rules.

The administration had in March banned the ‘Danda Nata’ as the troupes’ movement might spread the disease. But several ‘Danda Nata’ performers had to be arrested in different parts of the Ganjam district for taking out religious processions.

Thousands of devotees used to gather at the Danda Kali temples in different parts of the district to witness the Meru Jatra, the final rituals of the Danda Nata. The Mahavishub Sankranti is called Meru Sankranti by the Danda Nata participants.

A gory ritual marks the Jatra. Pata Bhokta, leader of any Danda Nata troupe, is blindfolded and hung upside down above a pit of holy fire. He is rocked till three drops of blood fall from his nostrils into the burning fire.

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