PURI: Amid tight security, the century's first Nabakalebar Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath was held here today with fanfare, religious fervour, enthusiasm and a spirit of camaraderie.
Lakhs of devotees from across the country and abroad descended on the pilgrim town of Puri in Odisha to witness commencement of the nine-day journey of the new idols of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra to Gundicha Temple and back to their abode.
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Devotees from all walks of life have been making a beeline to the town since yesterday for the world famous annual festival of chariots to catch a glimpse of the presiding deities of the 12th century shrine of Sri Jagannath.
Enthusiasm and excitement ran high among devotees as the deities remained indoors for 45 days this time due to Nabakalebara marking change of bodies of the Lords, which took place after a gap of 19 years.
"Naba Jaubana Darshan" of the deities was performed yesterday as they remained confined in "Anasara Pindi" (recovery chamber) after the grand bath on "Snana Purnima" on June 2.
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With over 30 lakh pilgrims expected to attend the festivities, police have made elaborate arrangements to provide a thick security cover by deploying about 10,000 personnel besides putting air and coast surveillance in place.
"Police are well-prepared to face any situation. Besides engagement of many senior officers, 164 platoons of force have been deployed at strategic points. Precautions have been taken to avoid any stampede like situation," IGP and Officer on Special Duty Soumendra K Priyadarshi said.
Personnel of Anti Terrotist Squad (ATS), Rapid Action Force (RAF) and sharp shooters have been deployed at vital points while the Coast Guard keeps a vigil on the sea.
Devotees poured into the seaside town to watch the grand ceremony and pull the three majestic and colourful chariots on the 'bada danda', the grand avenue.
Before the presiding deities - Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Lord Balabhadra and their sister Devi Subhadra - set out from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple, a number of special rituals like Mangla Arati and Mailam were held.
Descending from the Ratna Sinhasana, the bejewelled throne, the three deities were taken out of the temple down the 22 steps known as "Baisi Pahacha" through the Lion's gate in an elaborate royal ritual called "Pahandi" as devotees and sevayats jostled to have a glimpse and touch them.
In a rhythmic style, the deities moved forward step by step to the accompaniment of beating of ghantas and kahalis and blowing of konch shells.
The trinity proceeded majestically in rhythmic movement in their journey to the world outside during Pahandi.
At first Sudarshana, the celestial wheel of Krishna- Vishnu, was taken out and placed in the chariot of Subhadra follwed by Balabhadra, Subhadra and finally Jagannath.
Ready to carry the deities for their annual nine-day sojourn to the Gundicha temple, about two km away, the three majestic wooden chariots waited outside draped in layers of red, black, green and yellow cloth.
The 45-feet high "Nandighosh", the chariot of Lord Jagannath stood with 16 huge wooden wheels, while the 44-feet high "Taladhawaja" with 14 wheels is famous as Balabhadra's and Subhadra's "Darpadalan" Is 43-feet high with 12 wheels.
Shankaracharya of Puri Govardhana Peeth, Swamy Nischalananda Saraswati had darshan of the deities on chariots along with his six disciples.
Thereafter, the Gajapati King of Puri Divyasingh Dev proceeded to the chariots to perform the Chhera Panhara ritual by sweeping the platform with golden broom.
The proceedings were watched by millions, including a host of VVIPs and dignitaries, while buildings on both sides of the grand avenue were occupied by thousands of people vying for a proper view.
As the administration made elaborate arrangements for the convenience of pilgrims during Nabakalebar, which was last held in 1996, many devotees reached the newly constructed bus terminus at Malatipatapur near here. The visitors are provided free bus service from the terminus to the town. 27 parking lots have been constructed for parking of vehicles.
Over 500 hotels, 200 lodges, 100 mutts and dharmasalas are accommodating visitors besides temporary shelters. The state government has set up 33 Nabakalebara villages across the town to accommodate the visitors, said Tourism and Culture Secretary Arabinda Kumar Padhee.
Arrangements have also been made for facilities like health services, drinking water and sanitation.
More than 200 CCTV cameras have been installed across the city with an integrated surveillance control room near the Jagannath Temple.