PURI: This Rath Yatra was like no other. The sea of humanity was missing as were the myriad hues of frenzied devotion and the feverish chants, music and dance, when the Holy Trinity came down from the 'Ratna Simhasan' to board the chariots for the annual sojourn.
For the first time in its history, the Bada Danda (Grand Road) looked like a road on which the deities made their way to their aunt’s place and did not lose its existence under the shroud of the teeming multitudes, bathed in the faith of the Supreme Divine.
These are extraordinary times and the deities Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra too submitted to the extraordinary situation as their chariots rolled out for the first time without any participation of devotees.
Yet, for the millions of devotees in Odisha and across the world, the glimpse of the Trinity on their TV sets, mobile phones and computers during the live telecast and streaming of the entire rituals and procession, was enough succour and solace.
“Not a leaf moves without His will,” Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik stated while offering his prayers from his office, when the wheels of Nandighosa (the chariot of Lord Jagannath) started moving. Such emotion and fervour was palpable across the State though people remained home, even in Puri town, putting to rest all fears and apprehensions voiced by the Supreme Court and the State Government earlier.
Organised amid strict Covid-19 restrictions after the Supreme Court allowed conduct of the Rath Yatra, the chariots - Nandighosa, Taladhwaja and Darpadalana - were pulled by servitors only with a strong police cordon encircling them.
As per the court directive, only 500 servitors were engaged to pull one chariot weighing eight tonne.
Only 10 servitors including the charioteer were allowed on each chariot.
All the servitors had been tested for Covid-19 and allowed to take part only on being found negative.
However, during tests on Monday, one servitor was found to be Covid-19 positive. He was shifted to the hospital immediately and his contact tracing is on.
The proceedings commenced with the Mangala Alati at 3 am followed by Mailama, Tadap Lagi, Abakasa, Rosa Homa and Dwarpal Puja following which Gopal Bhog was offered. Daita servitors conducted Pahandi of Lord Balabhadra first followed by Devi Subhadra and Lord Jagannath. It was completed by 11.45 am. Ramakrushna,
Madanmohan and Sudarshan deities were also escorted in Pahandi to the chariots. Puri Sankaracharya Swamy Nischalananda Saraswati arrived at Bada Danda with his disciples and offered prayers to the deities atop their chariots.
At about 10.45 am, Puri king Gajapati Maharaj Dibyasingha Deb came from his palace on a palanquin and performed the ceremonial 'Chhera Pahanra'.
The ritual was completed by 11.30 am.
“It is hard to imagine Rath Yatra without devotees on the Bada Danda. But Lord Jagannath stepped out of Puri Srimandir for the whole universe,” he said. After tying wooden horses to the chariots, servitors pulled Taladhwaja of Lord Balabhadra at 11.55 am followed by Darpadalana of Devi Subhadra at 12.55 pm and Nandighosha at 1.55 pm.
The chariots reached Gundicha temple by evening. The Trinity will stay at the temple, their aunt's place, for nine days.
As many as 50 platoons of police force were deployed for smooth conduct of the fest. No untoward incident was reported during the day.
The entire Bada Danda was under Section 144 of the CrPC and a curfew-like situation prevailed in the pilgrim town. All entry points to Bada Danda and roads leading to Puri were barricaded and sealed.
Besides, rooftops of 108 buildings along the Grand Road were sealed to prevent gathering.