Thousands of devotees poured in with religious fervour and enthusiasm to take part in the grand spectacle of the annual Rath Yatra keeping in with centuries old tradition of pulling majestic chariots of Lord Jagannath, his brother and sister.
People from across the country and abroad descended on the pilgrim town to have a glimpse of the presiding deities of the Sri Jagannath temple. Since early morning thousands of devotees kept pouring in to watch the ceremony and pull the three colourful chariots on the 'bada danda', the Grand Avenue, where security personnelwere deployed in strength to prevent any untoward incident.
As the presiding deities, Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Balabhadra and their sister Subhadra - set out from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple for their annual nine-day sojourn to Gundicha temple, about two km away, a number of special rituals like Mangla Arati and Mailam were performed.
However, during the event a devotee died of heart attack, police said. "A man identified as Sudhakar Swain, an elderly person from Jagatsinghpur district, died of heart attack," Director General of police Manmohan Praharaj said. Some people claimed the death was due to a stampede-like situation, but doctors and the police ruled out that possibility.
Descending from the Ratna Sinhasana, the bejeweled 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 were taken out to the accompaniment of beating of ghantas and kahalis and blowing of conch shells. The temple was thrown open to public only on June 30 for "Naba Jaubana Darshan" of the deities as they remained confined in "Anasara Pindi" (recovery chamber) after the grand bath on "snana purnima" on June 15.
The proceedings were watched by millions, including Governor M C Bhandare and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, while buildings on both sides of the Grand Avenue were occupied by thousands of people vying for a proper view.
As volunteers were seen spraying jets of cold water on the vast multitude to give them relief from heat, security cordons were put in place around each chariot and policemen had a trying time controlling the crowd before and during the pulling of chariots.
Image: Devotees at the Yatra.
Photograph: Rediff Archives