The chief servitor at the Puri Jagannath Temple in Odisha on Saturday urged the Supreme Court to recall its order cancelling the yearly rath yatra because of the coronavirus pandemic, The Indian Express reported.

Pattajoshi Mohapatra told the top court that lakhs of devotees attend the Jagannath Rath Yatra every year. He added that the procession was an “essential religious practice” protected by the Constitution of India and its cancellation would affect the holiness of the temple. Mohapatra also claimed that the yatra had not been stopped even during the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1919.

“Unlike the rath yatras of other deities of other temples elsewhere where only the Utsava Murtis are taken out of the temple, in the case of the Shri Jagannatha Mandir, the main deities themselves move out of the mandir and therefore this Rath Yatra is unique and has an unbroken tradition,” Mohapatra said in his petition. “This ritual is not a mere celebratory festivity for public consumption, but is a mandatory and essential part of the temple’s religious practice, which the temple or its administrators are religiously mandated to observe and perform under any and all circumstances.”

Odisha has so far recorded 4,856 coronavirus cases, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s latest update. India on Sunday reported 15,413 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours – its biggest single-day rise so far. The country now has 4,10,461 cases and the toll stood at 13,254. As many as 2,27,755 people have recovered.

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Mohapatra also questioned the credibility of Odisha Vikas Parishad, the non-governmental organisation which had moved the petition seeking the cancellation of this year’s rath yatra, according to The Tribune. “In fact, the very bona fides of the petitioner in the writ petition must be examined in view of the fact that the said petition was moved barely five days before the Rath Yatra despite the date of the Yatra having been in public domain for months,” he said.

The Supreme Court had passed the order to cancel the rath yatra on June 18. “Lord Jagannath will not forgive us if we allowed the Rath Yatra,” Chief Justice SA Bobde had said at the hearing. The annual procession was scheduled to begin from June 23.

On Friday, the Jagannath Sanskriti Jana Jagran Manch had asked the Supreme Court to recall its order and claimed that the ritual could be performed with about 600 servitors while observing physical distancing rules, Live Law reported.