(Adding detail) Puri (Odisha), Jul 12 (PTI) Amidst beating of cymbals, blowing of conch shells and chanting of 'Hari Bol', Lord Jagannath and his celestial siblings' devotee-less Ratha Jatra was held in Odisha's Puri on Monday with strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols as the entire coastal town was put under curfew.
The three majestic chariots of Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Lord Jagannath reached their destination at the Shree Gundicha Temple, about 3 km away from the main temple, much ahead of the schedule,said Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who thanked everybody for the smooth conduct of the festival.
Patnaik, though a devout follower of Lord Jagannath, also himself refrained from visiting Puri and had dharshan of the sibling deities on television set at his residence.
The state government had banned physical public participation in the annual event in the wake of prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.
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 physically conduct the event.
Only those servitors, police personnel and officials who have tested negative for COVID-19 were allowed to take part in the festival, Puri Collector Samarth Verma said.
Gatherings on the streets or building roof tops have been prohibited. The curfew has been imposed in the interest of public health, he said.
The elaborate rituals began from Sunday night and the trinity along with Lord Sudarshan, were carried to their respective chariots in a step-by-step procession called 'Pahandi'.
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 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.
Each of the chariots was pulled first by about 500 servitors.
While Lord Balabhadras Taladwaja was first to reach the destination, it was followed by Devi Subhadras 'Darpadalan' and Lord Jagannaths 'Nandighosh'.
Though it was earlier decided that the pulling of the chariots will begin at 3 PM, the process actually began much before schedule, said Shri Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) chief administrator Krishan Kumar, who was also found singing Geeta Govinda among the servitors and pundits as the chariots reached the destination.
All entry points to Puri town were 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.
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.
The deities will spend night on chariots tonight and enter into Shree Gundicha Temple on Tuesday afternoon, said SJTA chief administrator Krishan Kumar.
While the Ratha Jatra was held only in Puri, the main seat of Lord Jagannath, no such events took place elsewhere across the state.
The Ratha Jatra is celebrated in over 100 places across the state every year on normal days.
Though the people refrained from visiting Puri on the occasion, a large number of devotees shed tears for being denied the opportunity to see the festival on their own eyes.
Many foreigners and members of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) in Bhubaneswar and other places virtually broke out for not being able to visit Puri for the Lords Ratha Jatra. PTI AAM SNS SNS