The annual celebration of the world famous Rath Yatra (chariot festival) in Odisha's temple town of Puri got off to a colourful start on Thursday attracting more than 15 lakh devotees from across the country and abroad.
Everything was big and gigantic in proportion in the confluence of faith - the chariots, the presiding deities, the Badadanda (grand road) packed with devotees and the elaborate arrangement by the administration.
As the chariots rolled at 3.30pm, the sea of crowd moved in unison, like waves, singing, dancing and waving hands. The chariots had to reach the Gundicha Temple, about two kilometres away.
However, pulling of the chariot by rope had to be stopped due to sun set just short of the temple. They will be taken to the temple in the morning on Friday.
"Elaborate security arrangements have been made to prevent any untoward incident," Puri district superintendent of police Anup Sahoo said.
He said more than 8000 security personnel were deployed across the town to maintain law and order. The police also installed closed circuit security cameras and deployed bomb detection and disposal squads to face any eventuality, he said. The Coast Guard closely monitored the Puri coast by stationing a ship in the Bay of Bengal.
The Indian Railway pressed more than sixty special trains into service for the transportation of huge numbers of people.
The festival marks the annual journey of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra, deities from the 12th century Jagannath Temple, in three colourfully decked up huge wooden chariots to the temple of Devi Gundicha (their aunt). The celebration ends nine days later with Bahuda Yatra (return journey) in which they return to their temple.
"Normally, the deities are worshiped within the temple throughout the year. However, on the day of Rath Yatra, they are taken through the Badadanda so that devotees - including non-Hindus and foreigners who are not allowed inside the temple - can have a glimpse of the gods," said a sevayat of the temple.