Modi flags off rathyatra amid heavy security

July 4th, 2008 - 12:34 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Narendra Modi

Ahmedabad, July 4 (IANS) Amid the chanting of prayers and massive security, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi Friday flagged off the 131st Jagannath rathyatra, the annual chariot festival dedicated to the Hindu god Jagannath. With cries of ‘Jai Ranchod, Makhan Chor’, hundreds of thousands of devotees thronged the Jagannath temple as the three chariots carrying idols of Lord Jagannath (Krishna), his brother Balaram and their sister Subhadra began their 131st journey from the temple.

After traversing the 18-km route, passing through some areas identified as communally sensitive, the procession will return to the temple in the evening.

With deployment of over 15,000 police personnel en route, the yatra is expected to be trouble free.

Banners and arches have been erected on the route, welcoming the yatra. One of the main attractions of the procession will be caparisoned elephants. This year the procession includes 16 elephants, 98 trucks, 30 akhadas or local gyms, 18 bhajan groups, music bands and devotees on foot. Around 2,000 sadhus from across the country too are expected to join.

The Ahmedabad rathyatra stands next only to the Puri festival in grandeur. However, unlike in Puri, the yatra in Ahmedabad has a history of communal skirmishes - the last time the yatra was marred by violence was in 1992.

Almost the same time a similar rathyatra began from Bhavnagar, amongst the 150 rathyatras are being taken out in the state.

On Thursday, the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had stayed away from the nationwide shutdown against the Jammu and Kashmir government cancelling land allotment to the Amarnath shrine board, citing the precarious security situation in view of the Jagannath festival.

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