The century’s first Nabakalebara Rath Yatra (chariot festival) of the Jagannath Temple in Odisha’s coastal town of Puri began on Saturday amid tight security, attracting lakhs of pilgrims from across the country and abroad.
The 3-km-long Bada Danda (grand road) between the Jagannath Temple and Gundicha Temple is jam-packed with pilgrims. The three gigantic colourfully decked up wooden chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra have been kept ready in the morning near the temple on the Bada Danda ready to be pulled by ropes by thousands of devotees.
The chariots will roll on Bada Danda in the afternoon after ‘Pahandi Bije’, the ritual of installing the idols their vehicles. The chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra are called Nandighosha, Taladhwaja and Darpadalana respectively.
Puri’s Rath Yatra is an annual celebration, marking the annual journey of the deities from the 12th century Jagannath Temple in the chariots to the temple of Devi Gundicha (their aunt). The celebration ends nine days later with Bahuda Yatra (return journey to their temple).
Nabakalebara Rath Yatra occurs once in 12 or 19 years depending whichever year has two Ashadha (rainy season). Nabakalebara – periodical renewal of wooden images of all three dieties – adds significance to Rath Yatra as the chariots carry the new idols carved out of sacred woods, which are identified after elaborate rituals.
From Thursday, pilgrims started pouring into the beach town, now teeming with people. State government officials expect more than 30 lakh tourists between Rath Yatra and Bahuda Yatra celebrations.
“Elaborate security arrangements have been made to maintain law and order and ensure smooth functioning of the festival,” Puri superintendent of police Ashish Singh said.
More than 10,000 police and paramilitary personnel, including 50 top officials, have been deployed in Puri. Chief minister Naveen Patnaik has deputed four ministers and an army of bureaucrats to supervise the festival.
Puri has been kept on a five-layered security cordon. The Bada Danda (grand road) -– where the three chariots roll on to their way to Mausima Temple (aunt’s temple) -– has been divided into 14 security zones.
More than 200 close circuit television (CCTV) cameras have been fitted across the city with an integrated surveillance control room near the Jagannath Temple to keep a close watch on the happenings.
The state administration has arranged for free bus services to ferry pilgrims from newly constructed bus terminus at Malatipatapur, 7km before Puri, to the city, where vehicular inflow has been restricted until the yatra ends. Hundreds of clean drinking water outlets, more than 2,000 tubewells, 3,000 toilets and bathrooms have been constructed around the city.
More than 2000 volunteers from nearly 70 non-governmental organisations will help the administration and police officials to ensure that the tourists do not face any problem during the festival. The administration has kept 250 doctors, over 900 paramedic staff, 30 ambulances and 30 temporary first aid centres at its disposal to cater to the pilgrims.
Puri has about 500 hotels, 200 lodgings, 100 ashrams and dharamshalas –- all of which have been filled up. Thirty three Nabakalebara villages (tourist shelters) have been erected as well to accommodate tourists.