Over a Million Witness Chariot Festival in Orissa
Jul 17, PURI, ORISSA (TUES)— More than an estimated million people yesterday witnessed the world famous Rath Yatra, the annual chariot festival, with devotees driven to a frenzy to catch a glimpse of the chariots. Residents clad in saffron and foreigners, members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon), were part of the sea of people.
The chorused chant of hymns, beating of the traditional drums and other musical instruments and the roar of the teeming crowds were loud enough to drown the roar of the waves by the seashore. “As pulling of chariot is restricted after evening, it couldn’t be pulled up to Gundicha temple. The chariot which is half-a-km away from the temple will be again pulled today morning,” a temple official said.
“The unique annual event has caught on in different parts of the country, but the celebration at Puri continues to be special as the triad comes out and is visible to those who are normally barred from entering the temple,” Surya Narayan Rath Sharma, a Jagannath cult researcher said.
All the rituals related to the festival were performed as per schedule. The main ritual of pulling of the chariots took place on time.
“In the morning, the three chariots were parked in front of the Lion’s Gate. Thereafter, they were taken out in a colourful procession.
The scene of coming down the 22 steps of the main staircase in a swaying manner amidst beats of gongs was a feast for the eyes,” said Suresh Mohapatra, chief of the temple administration.
The much-awaited moment came when the frenzied crowd started pulling the 43ft-high chariot which has 14 wheels. Next came the 44ft high chariot with 16 wheels, both proceeding towards the temple.
Elaborate security arrangements were made by the state government for the smooth and peaceful conduct of the annual sojourn.
“About 68 platoons of armed police forces were deployed for the occasion, supervised by high ranking officials,” a police official said.
To prevent any untoward incident, close circuit television cameras were installed along the Grand Road, the road leading to Mausima temple from the Jagannath temple and important places like bus stands and railway stations.
“Quick Reaction Teams of the state police, a group of specially trained commandoes, were deployed for any exigency. Sniffer dog squads, a bomb-disposal team and rooftop watchers gave police the extra edge in surveillance,” Bhubaneswar range Deputy Inspector General said.
“Sixty-eight platoons of armed police force, two companies of specially trained Rapid Action Force, 16 officials of superintendent of police or commandant rank, 20 assistant commandants, 45 deputy superintendents, 56 inspectors, 600 assistant sub inspectors and 1,200 home guards were deployed for the event,” he added.
The chariots will stay at temple for nine days.