Jagannath Rath Yatra gets underway in Puri

Puri, July 12: The world-famous Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath got underway without devotees for the second year in a row in the coastal town of Puri.

Majestic chariots of sibling deities Lord Balabhadra, Lord Jagannath and Devi Subhadra were towed by ‘sevayatas’ (traditional priests).

Annually, three deities are taken out in a chariot procession called Rath Yatra covering three km along the Grand Road connecting the12 century Shri Jagannath Temple and Mausi Maa Temple.

Hordes of servitors carried the huge wooden idols from the temple swaying them rhythmically in a ritual described as ‘pahandi’. Though devotees used to jostle for space to get a glimpse of the deities during ‘pahandi’ in earlier years, millions of people watched the procession through live television telecasts. Two to three dancers were seen dancing ecstatically in front of chariots.

Puri’s titular king Dibyasingha Deb carried out symbolic sweeping of wooden floor of all chariots before pulling of chariots by ‘sevayatas’ began.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first threw normal life out of gear in 2020, the State government decided not to allow the festival fearing that it would trigger the further spread of the disease. However, as per the Supreme Court order, the yatra was held without the participation of devotees. Since the pandemic has not subsided this year, only ‘sevayatas’ associated with rituals of the temple have been allowed to participate in the festival.

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To keep devotees off the Grand Road (road in front of the temple), the Puri district administration earlier vacated hotels and lodges. All lanes and by-lanes leading to the Grand Road were guarded by police personnel.

As many as 65 platoons led by 10 Additional Superintendents of Police, 31 Deputy Superintendents of Police and 64 inspectors were deployed for the smooth conduct of the Rath Yatra. Nowhere else has the festival been allowed. Chariots would remain parked outside the Mausi Maa Temple for the next one week. On the ninth day, the deities would start their return journey towards their abode in Shree Jagannath Temple.