Ratha Jatra begins in curfew-clamped Puri sans devotees

Ratha Jatra begins in curfew-clamped Puri sans devotees
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Puri (Odisha): Amidst beating of cymbals, blowing of conch shells and chanting of 'Hari Bol', Lord Jagannath and his celestial siblings' annual Ratha Jatra began in Odisha's Puri on Monday with strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols as the entire coastal town was placed under curfew.

This was for the second consecutive year and the second time in the history of the 12th-century shrine that the annual mega-festival, considered one of the biggest religious events in the country, was held sans devotees.

The entire 3-km stretch of the Grand Road in front of the temple wore a deserted look as only some selected priests and police personnel were allowed to participate in the festival.

Only those servitors, police personnel and officials who have tested negative for COVID-19 have been allowed to take part in the festival, Puri Collector Samarth Verma said.

Gatherings on streets or rooftops have been prohibited. The curfew has been imposed in the interest of public health, he said.

The elaborate rituals started from Sunday night and the sibling deities, Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Lord Jagannath, along with Lord Sudarshan, were carried to their respective chariots in a step-by-step procession called 'Pahandi'.

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 ritual.

A number of traditional rituals like 'Mangla Arati', 'Mailam' and 'Surya Puja' were held before the presiding deities set out from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.

Lord Sudarshan, the wheel weapon of Lord Krishna, was first seated in the chariot of Devi Subhadra, called 'Darpadalan'.

After that, Lord Balabhadra was seated on his chariot 'Taladhwaja' and finally, Lord Jagannath was taken to his chariot 'Nandighosh'.

The three wooden chariots draped in layers of red, black, green and yellow cloth were parked in front of the Lion's Gate.

The 45-feet-high 'Nandighosh' stood with 16 huge wooden wheels, while 'Taladhwaja' stands at 44-feet-high with 14 wheels, and 'Darpadalan' is 43-feet-high and has 12 wheels.

After the deities were seated on the chariots, Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb, the titular king of Puri, performed the 'Chhera Panhara' (sweeping of chariots) ritual with a golden broom, following which Jagatguru Shankaracharya of Govardhan Peeth, Swami Niuschalananda Saraswati, had a darshan of the deities as per tradition before the pulling of the chariots.

'Taladhwaja' was pulled first by about 500 servitors, following which 'Darpadalan' and 'Nandighosh' started rolling.

Though it was earlier decided that the pulling of the chariots will begin at 3 PM, the process actually began much before schedule, an official of the Shri Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) said.

All entry points to Puri town have been sealed and over 65 platoons of police, each having 30 personnel, were deployed and CCTVs installed at various locations as part of the security arrangement for the nine-day festival, officials said.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik refrained from visiting Puri and watched the proceedings on television.

The state government has made elaborate arrangements for free live broadcast of the festival for devotees across the country.

President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Odisha Governor Ganeshi Lal, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Andhra Pradesh Governor B B Harichandan and many others greeted people on the occasion.