The annual festival of Rath Yatra commenced in Odisha’s Puri on Monday (July 12), with servitors pulling the chariots of the three deities of Srimandir – Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Lord Jagannath – towards their aunt Devi Gundicha’s temple, amid the reverberating chants of Hari Bol and sounds ghanta, jhanja and mrudanga.
Lord Balabhadra’s chariot Taladwaja was the first to roll followed by Devi Subhadra’s Darpadalana and Lord Jagannath’s Nandighosa rath.
However, the usual splendour of the festival was missing for the second year in a row and the Grand Road wore a comparatively deserted look, due to the absence of lakhs of devotees who throng the to get a glance of the deities.
Strict orders have been put in place for the festival including sealing of the border of Puri and prohibitory orders across the beach town.
Around 3,000 sevayats and 1,000 temple officials, who have tested negative in RT-PCR test have been allowed to perform the rituals. Only 500 sevayats (servitors), who are fully vaccinated and tested negative for COVID-19, have been picked to pull each chariot to Gundicha Temple. Around 10,000 security personnel have been deployed in and around the venue.
Earlier in the day, the three deities were carried by the Daitapati servitors to the three chariots as part of the Pahandi Bije ritual. This was followed by the ceremonial Chhera Pahanra ritual during which the titular King of Puri Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb sweeps the chariot. The tradition, followed for centuries, denotes that not only the common man, but the king too is a servitor of the lords.
Supreme Court guidelines have mandated the chariots to be pulled within intervals of an hour to ensure social distancing.
The Rath Yatra is an annual festival during which three siblings and presiding deities of Puri’s Jagannath Temple go to their aunt’s house or Gundicha Temple, a couple of miles from Srimandir, on a nine-day visit.