The 140th Rath Yatra was taken out from the 400-year-old Jagannath Temple in Jamalpur here Sunday morning amid tight security, with lakhs of devotees joining the 15km journey.
The yatra covering the walled city, crossing communally sensitive areas of Jamalpur, Kalupur, Shahpur and Dariyapur, remained peaceful. Besides around 3 lakh devotees, 19 elephants, 101 tableaux, 19 bhajan mandalis and 30 akhadas were part of the annual festival.
BJP president Amit Shah, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, his deputy Nitin Patel apart from Ahmedabad East MP and actor Paresh Rawal were some of the prominent faces to attend the yatra, which highlighted the importance of cow, save girl child and the Army among other subjects through the tableaux.
The morning ritual
The rituals began with Rupani and Patel cleaning the way for the chariots, known as “Pahind Vidhi”. Then, mangal aarti was performed by Shah.
The 19th elephant
Before the procession could begin from Jamalpur, a tiff between zoo authorities and mahouts took place as the 19th elephant had not undergone medical tests. The female elephant is brought from Vadodara every year. Questioning the need for a medical test, a mahout said, “The yatra is taking place for so many years. Earlier, there was no need for the elephants to go under medical check-up. Why is it compulsory now?”. The mahouts threatened that if the 19th elephant was not allowed, then they would not take any of the jumbos in the procession. The authorities then had to give in to their demand.
Cow was the most popular theme of the yatra as far as the tableaux were concerned. Gai mata jivan bhar doodh pevadavta (Cow gives her milk throughout her life), Gai ka darja maa sey zyaada hai (Cow’s importance is more than a mother), Gai nu jeevan surakshit toh maanav sabhyata surakshit (If cow is safe, then the human civilisation is safe) — were some of the slogans that caught attention.
“Cow has to be protected as she is above mother. Mother gives milk only to her child, but a cow nurtures many people. We wanted to show our support to any decision by the government to protect the cow,” said Paresh Nagar, accountant and head of Rath Yatra team of Bhader Pol in Saraspur. The team, which has been participating in the yatra for over 30 years, also collected Rs 60,000 for distributing prasad.
Beti bachao messages were also seen in abundance. Some also put up pictures of CM Rupani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Beti bachao is Modiji’s idea. So we have put his posters with our messages. We decided on this theme because even today the society prefers a son,” said Rupesh Shah from Morbi. He has been participating for over 20 years.
While many tableaux saluted the Army, a few paid their respect to actor Vinod Khanna who died recently.
Another tableau lauded ISRO’s efforts and had cut-outs of Modi and astronaut Kalpana Chawala on it. Its theme was Vigyan vikas chey (science is development).
Several devotees rushed to click selfies with actor and MP Rawal. He arrived at Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) premises around 8.30 am to seek blessings of the deity and Dileep Maharaj, the high priest of the Jagannath Temple, as the procession passed.
Mayor Gautam Shah and Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Shankar Chaudhary were also on the AMC premises to welcome him.
“It is the first time that I am witnessing the yatra closely. Earlier, the yatra would have many episodes of violence, but now it is peaceful. It has become a testimony of peace and communal harmony. It is a legacy that Ahmedabad should be proud of,” said Rawal. Shouts of Rawal bhai echoed as people rushed to take selfies with the popular actor.
Around 20,000 security personnel from the state police and paramilitary forces, including National Security Guard, were deployed for the yatra.
This year Ahmedabad Detection of Crime Branch made its special team — pushing squad — dressed in saffron clothes, ensured smooth conduct of the yatra that stretches up to 1.5 km at a time.
In sensitive localities of Dariapur and Shahpur, scores of Muslim leaders welcomed the three raths.
Deputy superintendent of police Tarun Barot and IPS officer G L Singhal, both co-accused in Ishrat Jahan case, were among the officers manning the communally sensitive areas.
The 36th Rath Yatra of Jagannath, Balbhadra and Subhdra in Vadodara was taken out amid tight security from Vadodara railway station in Sayajigung area, with thousands thronging in to seek the Lord’s blessings. It passed through Kalaghora Circle, Raopura, Jubilee Baug, Nyay Mandir and Dandia Bazar before culminating at a Krishna temple near Polo Ground. Various cultural tableaux by religious groups marked the yatra.
Students leaders of Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda also welcomed Lord Jagannath on their campus. This year, a team of civic administration also accompanied the Rath Yatra on the entire route to clean the streets.
With inputs from Satish Jha and Ritesh Gohil