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Devotees throng Puri as annual Rath Yatra begins

A sea of devotees, undeterred by the heavy downpour, thronged the town of Puri for the world famous annual Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath and his siblings that began on Sunday.

Lakhs of people have congregated at the pilgrim town to witness Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra riding three giant wooden chariots to be pulled by the devotees on the Bada Danda (Grand Road) as they travel to Gundicha temple.

Rath Yatra (chariot festival) is the celebration marking the annual journey of the three deities from the 12th century Jagannath temple in the chariots to the temple of Devi Gundicha, their aunt. The celebration ends nine days later with Bahuda Yatra or the return journey of the three to their temple.

The rituals relating to the festival started early in the morning.

The 'pahandi' of the deities began around 10.30 a.m., when the three gods along with Lord Sudarsana are taken out in a procession to their chariots parked in front of the temple as the entire 'Bada Danda' reverberates with the sounds of ghanta (cymbals), kahali (type of flute), mahuri (a double reeded instrument), pakhauja (a variant of mridangam), mardal (similar to pakhawaj) and bells.

After the deities are placed on their respective chariots, Puri King Gajapati Divyasingh Dev will perform 'chhera panhara'. Then the pulling of chariots would begin, said Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) chief Pradeep Jena.

One significance of this festival is that people from all religions and faiths and walks of life can see the deities and participate in the 3-km long chariot procession. Except Hindus, people from other faiths are not allowed to enter the temple on other days.

Meanwhile, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah and several central and state ministers greeted the people on the occasion of Rath Yatra.

Hundreds of police personnel have been deployed to ensure smooth conduct of the festival and have been positioned in designated areas.

Director General of Police (DGP) K.B. Singh said elaborate security arrangements have been made for the chariot festival.
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