The Rathyatra festival was marred by a stampede that left a woman dead and three injured today as millions from across the country and abroad thronged this pilgrim town to witness Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Lord Balabhadra and sister Devi Subhadra set off on their annual sojourn to their aunt’s abode on three huge chariots.
The stampede took place when the the wooden chariots carrying the presiding deities of the 12th century shrine were moving past the royal palace and the woman, identified as 65-year-old Bijaylaxmi Mohanty of Markandeshwarsahi area here, and three others fell down, police sources said.
After their fall near the chariot of Lord Balabhadra, the four came under the surging crowd of devotees and were later pulled out by volunteers who took them to a hospital here, they said.
“The woman was declared brought dead by doctors while three others are undergoing treatment. Their condition is stable,” Chief District Medical Officer (CDMO), Puri, Narahari Maharana told PTI.
Earlier, after a series of rituals, the deities were taken off the Ratna Sinhasana, the bejewelled throne, and out of the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.
The deities were taken down 22 steps known as ‘baisi pahacha’ through Lion’s gate in an elaborate ritual called ’Pahandi’ to the beating of gongs as devotees and sevayats jostled to have a closer look and to touch them.
At first Sudarshana, the celestial wheel of Krishna-Vishnu, was taken out and placed in the chariot of Subhadra. It was followed by Balabhadra, Subhadra and finally Jagannatha.
Jagannath was ensconsed in the largest of the chariots, 45-feet high ‘Nandighosh’ which has 16 huge wooden wheels.
It was followed by the chariot of Balabhadra, the 14-wheeled 44-feet-high ‘Taladhwaja’ and lastly that of Subhadra known as ‘Darpadalan’ with 12 wheels and standing 43 feet high. Security personnel cordoned off each chariot.
The Gajapati King of Puri Divya Singha Deb arrived from his palace on a silver-plated palanquin for the ‘Chhera Pahanra’ ritual.
He offered prayers to the deity and then swept the platforms with a golden broom and sprinkled flowers and fragrant water.
Among the VIPs who turned out to watch the Rathayatra were Governor M C Bhandare and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
Devotees poured into the seaside town since early morning to watch the ceremonial pulling of the chariots on the ’Bada Danda’, as the Grand Avenue is known, with security personnel deployed in strength keeping a watchful eye.