BHUBANESWAR: True to the hype built around it, the Rath Yatra attracted over 17 lakh visitors who thronged the Pilgrim Town of Puri to have a darshan of the Trinity on the occasion of the first Nabakalebara of the century.
An under-prepared administration heaved a sigh of relief when the pulling of chariots came to an end on Sunday without any major incident. Officials linked with the Rath Yatra preparations maintained that this year’s congregation was unprecedented as the Grand Road was teeming with millions at the peak hours when the chariots were being pulled.
The entire length of the Grand Road, from the Jagannath Temple to Gundicha Temple, which is about three kms, lanes, bylanes and buildings did not have an inch of space left.
Ordinarily, the density of devotees between Singhadwar and Marchikot on a normal Rath Yatra used to be around 90 per cent. The density decreased to 60 to 70 per cent beyond Marchikot. But this time, the density of pilgrims on the entire stretch of the Grand Road was more than 90 per cent during the pulling of chariots.
Describing the congregation as unprecedented, Director General of Police Sanjiv Marik said the Grand Road, all the lanes, bylanes and buildings had around eight lakh crowd during the pulling of chariots. It took three hours to walk from Balagandi High School to the nearest parking place, Marik said.
The State police had set up an integrated control room with 200 CCTVs which monitored the ingress of crowd during the last two days. Sources maintained that the ingress of crowd on Saturday throughout the day was 10.5 lakh. Earlier, around 2.5 lakh people had booked themselves in hotels, dharmasalas, guest houses and taken shelters in different pilgrim villages set up by the administration.
Railway sources maintained that around 50 special trains which ran for two days on Friday and Saturday brought around one lakh people to the town. Besides, 133 buses brought pilgrims from outside and inside the State to Puri.
Police maintained that the floating population was around two lakh throughout the day. Puri Superintendent of Police Ashis Singh said there was no space to even stand during the peak period. Puri Sub-Collector Madhusudan Das, an official who was near the Taladhwaja chariot, said the crowd was more than double compared to previous car festivals.
He said though arrangements were made for one lakh pilgrims in 31 villages, more than two lakh took shelter there. Besides, more than one lakh pilgrims had to stay in the open as there was no space for them in the villages. More than one lakh people slept on the beach, the DGP said.
Besides, the two lakh local population of Puri and more than one lakh pilgrims from outlying areas will also have to be taken into account.