Over ten lakh devotees witnessed the world famous annual Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath held here today with fanfare, religious fervour and enthusiasm amid tight security as the practice of people climbing the chariots was stopped in a major reform initiative.
However, Puri Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati did not visit the chariots before they were pulled accusing the Odisha government of interfering in religious matters by asking him to ascend the raths (chariots) alone without his disciples.
“The state government has dared to dictate terms to the Shankaracharya of Puri. I will not visit the chariots before they are pulled for Rath Yatra,” Saraswati had told reporters at the Govardhan Peeth in Puri yesterday.
Devotees from across the country and abroad descended on the pilgrim town of Puri in Odisha for a glimpse of the presiding deities of the 12th century shrine of Sri Jagannath and mingled with the sea of humanity during the annualfestival of chariots.
“The festival was held peacefully in a smooth manner. There was no untoward incident as elaborate security measures were taken,” a senior police officer said.
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A tight security net comprising around 7,000 police personnel was in place as a precautionary measure, he said adding apart from force deployment, CCTV and spy cameras had been installed.
Personnel of Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS), Rapid Action Force (RAF) and sharp shooters were deployed at vital points while the Coast Guard kept a vigil on the sea.
The annual event was marked by a major reform – the practice of devotees climbing the chariots and touching the deities was put to an end.
Devotees poured in to the seaside town since early morning to watch the ceremony and pull the three majestic and colourful chariots on the ‘bada danda’, the grand avenue.
A host of VIPs including Odisha Governor S C Jamir and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik witnessed the proceedings. As the presiding deities, Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra – set out from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple, a number of special rituals like ‘Mangla Arati’ and ‘Mailam’ were performed.
Descending from the Ratna Sinhasana, the bejewelled throne, the three deities were taken out of the temple down the 22 steps known as ‘Baisi Pahacha’ through the Lion’s gate in an elaborate royal ritual called ‘Pahandi’ as devotees and sevayats jostled to have a glimpse and touch them.
In a rhythmic style, the deities moved froward step by step to the accompaniment of beating of ‘ghantas’ and ‘kahalis’ and blowing of konch shells.
The temple was thrown open to public only yesterday for ‘Naba Jaubana Darshan’ of the deities as they remained confined in ‘Anasara Pindi’ (recovery chamber) after the grand bath on ‘Snana Purnima’ held on June 13.
The trinity proceeded majestically in their journey to the world outside during Pahandi.