Bhubaneswar, June 21 (IANS) More than five lakh devotees witnessed the annual Rath Yatra (chariot festival) of Lord Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra in Odisha's temple town of Puri Thursday, officials said.
The ceremonial procession of the deities known as Pahandi - carrying the deities out of the temple to the chariots - started at 9.35 a.m., Laxmidhar Pujapanda, the public relations officer of the temple administration, told IANS.
More than three lakh devotees reached the town, 56 km from the state capital Bhubaneswar, by 9 a.m. By evening, the numbers swelled to more than half a million. The pulling of the chariots started at about 3.40 p.m., Pujapanda said.
The festival marks the annual journey of the three deities from the 12th century Jagannath temple in three splendidly decorated wooden chariots pulled by devotees to the Gundicha temple, around three km away.
The festival ends nine days later when the deities make their way back home to the Jagannath temple. The return journey, known as Bahuda Jatra, will be organised June 29.
A glimpse of the deities is considered auspicious and around a million devotees throng to attend this annual procession. The chariots are pulled with ropes by devotees amid chanting of hymns.
There has been no untoward incident reported so far. The state government made elaborate security arrangements with about 8,000 policemen deployed across the town to maintain law and order and prevent any untoward incident, district Superintendent of Police Anup Kumar Sahoo told IANS.
Hundreds of policemen have been deployed at the beach. Bomb disposal squads and fire tenders have been engaged to meet emergencies.
Sahu also said that the Coast Guard had stationed a ship in the Bay of Bengal close to the Puri coast and intensified patrolling.