Sea of pilgrims at Puri for annual chariot festival

July 3rd, 2011 - 11:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, July 3 (IANS) Lakhs of devotees and tourists flocked to Orissa’s Jagannath Temple in Puri as the annual Rath Yatra or chariot festival began Sunday.

The ceremonial procession of the deities known as Pahandi (carrying the deities out of the temple to the chariots) started at 8.35 a.m, a temple official said.

The festival marks the journey of three Hindu deities - Jagannath, brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra - from the 12th century temple, about 56 km from this state capital. They are carried in three splendid wooden chariots, pulled by devotees, to the Gundicha temple, about two kilometres away.

The devotees pulled the chariots with the help of ropes amid chants of hymns, dance and the rhythmic beats of traditional musical instruments.

“The pulling of the chariots started around 2 p.m., an hour ahead of the schedule,” Laxmidhar Pujapanda, the temple’s public relations officer told IANS. All the three chariots reached their destination before sunset.

Devotees had started gathering early in the morning and by evening the crowd swelled to lakhs.

Those who witnessed the procession included Governor M.C. Bhandare, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, several state ministers and legislator and Assam Governor J.B. Patnaik.

The festival culminates nine days later when the deities make their way back home to the Jagannath temple in their return journey known as Bahuda Yatra. A glimpse of the deities on the chariot is considered to be very auspicious.

The state government has made elaborate arrangements in the town to prevent any untoward incident. Thousands of policemen have been deployed to maintain law and order. Closed circuit security cameras have been installed at various places to keep a watch on troublemakers and manage crowds.

Sniffer dogs, bomb detection and disposal squads and fire tender units have been stationed to meet emergencies, a police officer said.

At least 56 special trains are running from different parts of Orissa, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh to meet the extra rush of passengers to Puri during the festival, the Bhubaneswar-headquartered East Coast Railway said.

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