Braving the heat wave and amidst tight security cover, lakhs of devotees from across the country on Tuesday thronged this pilgrim city to witness the Rath yatra, the nine-day sojourn of the presiding deities of the Sri Jagannath temple.
The chanting of ‘haribol’ and clanging of cymbals rented the air as the three presiding deities came out of Ratna sinhasan, their original abode on ceremonial pahandi procession through the “Baisi pahacha” to the Lions gate where the three chariots were parked to take them to the Gundicha temple.
Lakhs of devotees converged at the three-km long ‘bada danda'(grand road) from the Lions Gate of the 12th century edifice to the Gundicha temple to witness the grand annual world-famous car festival.
Temple sources said Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Lord Balavadra and sister Devi Subhadra were offered ‘gopal bhog’ (breakfast) after necessary rituals before being taken out from the ‘Ratnavedi’ of the sanctum sanctorum in a ceremonial ‘pahandi bije’ to their respective well-decorated chariots parked outside the temple.
The temple servitors took the deities on their shoulders from the temple amidst blowing of conch shells through Ananda Bazar and the ‘Baishi Pahacha’ to the Lions Gate under tight security.
The chariots – the red and yellow ‘Nandighosha’ of Lord Jagannath with 16 wheels, red and green ‘Taladhwaja’ of Balabhadra with 14 wheels and red and black ‘Devadalana’ of Devi Subhadra -with a dozen wheels were lined up outside the temple near the Lions Gate.
As per rituals, Lord Balavadra was first taken out of the ‘ratna vedi’ and installed in the chariot called ‘Taladhwaja’ through the ceremonial ‘pahandi bije’, followed by Devi Subhadra to the ‘Darpadalan Chariot’ and lastly Lord Jagannath, fondly called as ‘kalia’ by lakhs of devotees, was installed in the ‘Nandighosh’ chariot.
The devotees broke into frenzied shouts of ‘Haribol’ and ‘Jai Jagannath’ as soon as they witnessed the deities coming out of the temple to board the chariots to begin their nine-day sojourn to the Gundicha temple.
The appearance of the deities in public is believed to expel the darkness and bring light. There was virtually a mad rush of the devotees at the Lions Gate to have a glimpse of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balavadra and Devi Subhadra taken on a pahandi bije to the chariots.
The authority made elaborate security arrangements for the smooth conduct of the festival of the year.
Official sources said about 170 platoons of police forces besides one thousand experienced officers, rapid action force, and quick response team have been deployed in the holy city to control the surging crowd who have jam-packed the three-km long ‘bada danda’ for the safe and smooth conduct of the fete.
Several CCTV cameras were installed along the Grand Road and other important places like Railway stations and bus stands to monitor the crowd movement from the control room.
A comprehensive traffic mobility plan is being implemented. An ambulance corridor alongside Grand Road has been created.
About five hundred lifeguards are deployed along the Puri beach for rescue and to prevent drowning in the sea.
The rooftops of all buildings located on either side of the ‘bada danda’ from the Lions Gate to the Gundicha temple were packed with devotees since early this morning.
All lanes and bylanes leading to the grand road were also crowded with devotees as they tried to enter the ‘bada danda’ for a ‘darshan’ of the deities on their chariot.
Temple sources said after the three deities were installed in the chariots, ‘Gajapati’ of Puri Dibyasingha Deb would conduct the ‘chera panhara’ (cleaning the three chariots with a golden broom).
The chariots would be then pulled one after another by the devotees on the grand road to their final destination at Gundicha temple where the deities would stay for nine days before returning to their original abode through ‘Return Car festival’ on June 28 next.
As per tradition the deities, on their way to Gundicha temple, stop at Mausima temple along the three km Grand road to taste the famous ‘Poda Pitha’ baked by their aunt.
The Doordarshan and local TV channels have made elaborate arrangements to cover the festival live.