Rath Yatra: How the juggernaut still rolls
"Deepak Pahadi from Sambalpur, this is your mom. Please come to the Bharat Sevashram Sangh's lost-and-found centre near Swargadwar. We're worried for you."
"Shanta Mondal, 40 years old, has come from Bongaon in West Bengal's North 24 Parganas district. She is missing since yesterday. Her husband and son are waiting for her at the Bharat Sevashram Sangh centre. Shanta Mondal, wherever you are, please come and meet your family."
From 6 o'clock in the morning till late at night, the Sangh's public address system at the beach kept on calling missing persons--almost one in five minutes--with interludes like warning against the high tide and con artists roaming around the town.
About 15 lakh people, mostly low-income group rural devotees--besides bureaucrats, policemen, politicians, con artists and sex workers from all over eastern India--congregated at Puri, a small temple town about 60 km south of the Odisha state capital, Bhubaneswar.
The town's 500-odd hotels, 33 temporary shelters and dharmashalas couldn't, obviously, accommodate them. So, people with multi-colour bags and bundles were seen sleeping on Marine Drive footpaths and even on the beach.
When the lord steps out in the sun, the world rushes ahead to pay respect. Even the mighty Bay of Bengal sends waves after giant waves to welcome the lord. This year before his annual vacation at his aunt's home in Gundicha temple three km from his own temple, Jagannath is having a new body--Naba Kalebara--after 19 years.
It happens only when there are two Ashadha months in a year - a rare occasion in the ancient Hindu calendar that comes once in 12 to 19 years. The lord rejects his old body - made of neem wood - and have a new one.
The idea is to remind the believer that your body is 'jeerna basana' (tattered cloth) of your soul. Death only means having a new body. And the soul lives on as life is eternal.
So, the spectacle assumed an added significance this time attracting 15 lakh people, who watched the journey of three chariots - Nandighosa for Jagannath, Darpadalani for his sister Subhadra and Taladhwaja for brother Balabhadra.
It's all about people connect devised over the years - about eight centuries. The lord apparently lives like a common man, eats meagre food, goes on fast for 10 days every year and breaks it in the privacy of his home.
His people understand all this and the importance of visiting one's aunt in a neighbouring village. It's always the right balance between familiarity and mystery that makes a great ruler.
This time, it took two days to cross the three-km stretch. The ritual of taking out the idols from the temple and place them on the chariots - called Pahandi Vijay - took about four hours. It's an elaborate show of power and grandeur.
Meanwhile, 15 lakh people were waiting in a cordoned off stretch of about 30 metres by three kilometres. The sun was at its cruellest even at nine in the morning and the humidity level was so high that even breathing seemed to be an effort.
From a small enclosure marked for the VIPs, one could see a three-kilometre stretch packed with human beings. Heat played its role and about 700 people fainted. But they fell on the persons next to them. There was no space even to collapse.