Lakhs of devotees and tourists thronged this temple town on Tuesday for the annual Rath Yatra (chariot festival) of the Hindu god Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra.
The ceremonial processions of the deities known as Pahandi (carrying the deities out of the temple to the chariots) started at 8.20 a.m., about an hour before the scheduled time, Laxmidhar Pujapanda, the temple's public relation officer, said.
The Rath Yatra marks the annual journey of the three deities from the 12th century Jagannath temple in three splendidly decorated wooden chariots, pulled by devotees, to the Gundecha temple, about two kilometres away. The festival culminates nine days later when the deities make their way back home to the Jagannath temple.
By 9 a.m. about four lakh devotees had already reached this temple town, about 55 km from the state capital Bhubaneswar. By evening, the numbers could swell to more than a million, Pujapanda said.
The nine-day chariot festival is held in the Hindu lunar month of Asadha, which falls in June-July.
The state government has made elaborate security arrangements with more than 5,000 policemen deployed across the city to maintain law and order and prevent any untoward incident, a senior state police official involved in the security arrangement said.
Hundreds of policemen in plainclothes are also on duty.
More than a dozen closed circuit security cameras have been installed at various places to keep a watch on troublemakers and manage crowds, the official said.
Bomb detection and disposal squads and fire tender units are also ready to meet emergencies. The coast guard, which has stationed a ship in the Bay of Bengal close to the Puri coast, has also intensified patrolling along the sea route, he said.