Satyasundar Barik

Annual routine attracts lakhs of people to the temple town

PURI: The nine-day annual Rath Yatra here got under way on Monday amid tight security, witnessed by lakhs of devotees. The highlight of the event was the pulling of three majestic chariots carrying the deities of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra.

Devotees jostled for space on ‘Grand Road’ outside the 12th century Sri Jagannath Temple as hundreds of security personnel took control of the city. The devotees danced in ecstasy and chanted ‘haribol’ and ‘Jai Jagannath’ in a charged atmosphere in the bright sunny morning when the deities were ceremonially brought out through Lion’s Gate, the main entrance to the temple.

Hundreds of priests had by then performed a series of intricate rituals. The servitors, cordoned by police personnel, brought out the huge wooden idols, swaying them rhythmically in a ritual described as ‘pahandi.’ This went on for two hours. The deities were then placed in their respective chariots.

The designated king of Puri, Gajapati Divyasingha Deb, described as the representative of Lord Jagannath, came in a palanquin from his palace and swept the wooden floor using a broom with a golden handle amidst chanting of slokas.

The crowd swelled: according to one estimate almost seven lakh people, including members from the Dalit community and non-Hindus, witnessed the event. Usually only Hindus are allowed into the temple. It is believed that the deities come out once a year so that all may see them.

The pulling of the chariot, one of the most exciting segments of the festival, began at 3 p.m. The servitors played the cymbals and beat drums. Devotees were frantically seeking to touch the ropes of chariots: it is believed that doing so would wipe out their sins.

The chariots were pulled to the Gundicha Temple, 3 km away. By late evening the chariots of Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra reached the destination. Lord Jagannath’s chariot, Nandighosh, was still on its way.

The deities will be worshiped for nine days there.