A sea of devotees gathered at the beach town of Puri in Odisha for the annual nine-day Jagannath Rath Yatra that began today. Lakhs of people converged in Puri for a glimpse of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra on the Bada Danda (Grand Road) as they travel from their home -- the 12th century Jagannath temple to the Shree Gundicha temple, home of their aunt.
The deities will travel to Gundicha temple on three giant wooden chariots -- Nandighosa (Lord Jagannath), Taladhwaja (Balabhadra) and Darpadalan (Subhadra) -- to be pulled by the gathered devotees.
The rituals related to the annual Jagannath Rath Yatra started early in the morning. Adorned with tahias (giant floral crowns), the three deities along with Lord Sudarsan were brought out of the sanctum sanctorum amid beats of cymbals, drums and gongs in a procession called Pahandia to their respective chariots parked in front of the temple.
After the deities were placed on their respective chariots, Puri Gajapati Divyasingh Dev performed Chhera Panhara on the chariots. Puri Gajapati conducted the ritual of sweeping the chariots with a golden broom, a symbolic rite showing that all are equal before the Lord.
Per the rituals, three garlands of consent from the three deities were placed on the three grand chariots, officially permitting the pulling of the chariots.
The three chariots look just like temples that have been decorated with small idols, diyas and garlands. The chariots were pulled from Ratha Khala (construction site of the chariot) and later parked outside Lion's gate for the rituals for the yatra.
Several people were seen celebrating the festival by playing drums, trumpets and singing devotional songs. There are traditional dances and performances every year that make this procession a very vibrant affair.
The first chariot to reach Lion's gate was of Nandighosa followed by Devi Subhadra's Devadala and at last Lord Balabhadra's Taladhwaja amid thousands of devotees who have already begun to swarm the pilgrim city ahead of the mega festival.
Devotees from all across the globe were present to show their presence on the auspicious day.
Datyaroka Swami Tapasi, one of the devotees from Croatia, Europe, who is a frequent visitor to Shree Jagannath Temple said that it was the first time that he is witnessing such a festival.
"I have visited the Shree Jagannath Temple a lot of times but this is my first experience of attending this festival. Every year, due to some reason I am unable to plan a trip to this place especially during this festival, but this time I made sure to visit and seek blessings from the Lord. I am going to cherish my first visit to this auspicious occasion of Rath Yatra throughout my life."
Another devotee, Mangala from Italy said, "I am a bit emotional thinking that I am among the fortunate ones who could actually be a part of the celebrations and that too for the first time. I am really surprised to see the decorations and the huge chariots which is just amazing."
The festival is not just about the Rath Yatra but also the security that has gone behind, turning the celebrations into a successful one. The Odisha police and the state government have made extensive arrangements for smooth conduct of the festival.
The chariot festival ends nine days later with Bahuda Yatra or the return journey of the deities to the main temple. Though only Hindus are allowed to enter the temple on other days, people from all faiths participate in the three-km-long chariot pulling procession.
As Lord Jagannath, the God of Universe, came out of his abode to give darshan to devotees, the rain gods also showered blessings giving them respite from intense humidity.
President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan wished people on the beginning of the Rath Yatra.
"Greetings and good wishes to fellow citizens on the auspicious occasion of Rath Yatra. May the blessings of Lord Jagannath bring peace, happiness and prosperity to everyone's lives," President Kovind tweeted.
"May the pious and noble ideals associated with the Rath Yatra enrich our lives with peace and harmony," wished the Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu.
PM Modi also sought Lord Jagannath's blessings for the good health, happiness and prosperity of people.
"Best wishes to everyone on the special occasion of the Rath Yatra. We pray to Lord Jagannath and seek his blessings for the good health, happiness and prosperity of everyone. Jai Jagannath," the Prime Minister tweeted.
This year, the Jagannath Rath Yatra is celebrated during the Ashadh month of the Hindu calendar.
(With Inputs From ANI, IANS)