Ten lakh devotees witness annual ceremonial procession of deities

Two persons were killed as devotees surged to catch a glimpse of the deities during the rath yatra that got underway in Puri on Thursday. While the identity of one victim — a woman from Visakhapatnam named K. Rabanamma — was established, the identity of the other could not be ascertained.

Three splendidly decorated chariots carrying the idols of Lord Balabhadra, Lord Jagannath and Devi Subhadra were towed by police with the help of devotees, as 10 lakh devotees gathered to witness the spectacle that unfolded along the three-km-long Grand Road.

The deities come out of their 12th century abode — the Shri Jagannath Temple — once a year to give ‘darshan’ to the devotees.

Preparing for the rituals

Overcast conditions and a light drizzle made it a perfect day for devotees to witness the rituals. The three chariots which are taken to Gundicha Temple, where the deities would be worshiped for nine days, had to be halted midway. The journey of the deities will resume on Friday.

From early morning, a few hundred priests performed a series of intricate rituals to prepare the deities for the ceremonial procession. Hordes of servitors, within a protective police cordon, carried the huge wooden idols from the temple, swaying them rhythmically in a ritual called ‘pahandi.’

The atmosphere was charged with religious fervour as devotees and cultural groups sang devotional songs, danced in patterns, and chanted ‘Haribol’ and ‘Jai Jagannath.’ There was much jostling as people vied for vantage points which would give them a clear view of the deities. While many cried ecstatically, others dropped to the ground frequently as a mark of their devotion. With the passing of every minute, the crowd swelled by the thousands.

The district administration had made elaborate arrangements to sprinkle water on devotees. The Rapid Action Force and the State police swung into action on spotting the slightest disturbance in the crowd.

As per tradition, Gajapati Divyasingha Deb, regarded as Puri’s designated King, swept the wooden floors of the three chariots before the festival started.

Tight security arrangements were made with the police briefed about every minute detail. In the control room, the behaviour of the crowd was monitored through closed-circuit cameras.

Governor Muralidhar Chandrakant Bhandare and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik witnessed the festival.