Puri: Amidst covid restriction, tight security, curfew and lock down, the presiding deities of Sri Jagannath temple--Lord Jagannath, Lord Balavadra and Devi Subhadra—began their nine day sojourn today in the absence of devotees.
The world famous rath yatra of Lord Jagannath in this pilgrim city every year witnessed by lakhs of devotees from across the country who thronged the three km long Grand road (Bada danda) to have the glimpse of the trinity on their respective chariot .But for the second consecutive year due to the covid pandemic the grand festival of Rath yatra only in Puri is being observed without the participation of the devotees.
The district administration clamped curfew since last night ,sealed all the entry points to Puri, deployed 65 platoons of police force and stopped plying of bus and train services to ensure that the annual Rath yatra conducted without the devotees.
The daily rituals began with the offering of Gopal bhog ( breakfast)to Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Lord Balavadra and sister Devi Subhadra before they were taken out from the ''Ratnavedi'' of the sanctum sanctorum in a ceremonial 'pahandi bije' to their respective well-decorated chariots parked outside the 12th century edifice at lions gate of the temple.
“Haribol and Jai Jagannath” rented the air as the daitapatis,the temple servitors took the deities on their shoulders from the temple amidst blowing of conch shells through Ananda Bazar and the ''baishi Pahacha'' to the Lions Gate under tight security.
As per rituals, Lord Balavadra was first taken out of the 'ratna vedi' and installed in the chariot called 'Taladhawaja' through the ceremonial 'pahandi bije', followed by Devi Subhadra to the 'Darpadalan Chariot'.
Lord Jagannath, called 'kalia' by lakhs of devotees, was the last one to be taken out and installed in the 'Nandighosh' chariot.
After the three deities were installed on the chariots, Sankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati of Gobardhan mutt along with six of his followers had darshan of the deities on their respective chariot and offered prayer as per the invitation of the jagannath temple administration .
The chariots would be pulled one after another with a gap of one hour as decided by the temple administration after 'Gajapati' of Puri Dibyasingha Deb conducted the 'chera panhara'(cleaning the three chariots with a golden broom) on all the three chariots which would be over by 2 PM.
This year only the servitors who have tested RT-PCR negative will pull the chariots on the Grand road to their final destination at Gundicha temple where the deities would stay for nine days before returning to their original abode through Bahuda yatra known as 'Return Car festival'.
The administration has allowed only 500 servitors to pull each chariot strictly following the covid guidelines of using masks and maintaining the social distancingAbout 65 platoons of police personnel have been deployed for the Rath Yatra while all the 108 buildings roof tops located alongside the Badadanda have been sealed to ensure that not a single devotee would come to the grand road to witness the festival.
The festival was telecast live by the Doordarshan and other local Television channels for lakhs of devotees across the country and outside to have the glimpse of the Rath Yatra.
As per religious tradition the Trinity on Ashadha shukla dwitiya goes on a nine day sojourn to their Janma bedi (birth place) Gundicha temple riding three separate chariots once in every year and taste delicacies prepared by their mother.
This annual ritual is called "Srigundicha Yatra" while the return journey is called "Bahuda".
As per the standard operating procedure (SOP) issued for the second consecutive year by the state government due to prevalent Covid pandemic situation all aspects of the festival including pulling of chariots to Gundicha temple will be conducted by servitors who were found Covid negative in the RT-PCR test.
No devotee is allowed onto the Badadanda during the festival.Pulling of first chariot Taladhwaj of Balabhadra will begin by 3 PM followed by Darpadalan of Debi Subhadra and lord Jagannath will come in the end riding Nandighosh.
Sources said 65 platoons of police including 500 officers of various ranks have been deployed to ensure that the rath yatra passed peacefully. The Badadanda has been divided into four security zones while the entire town is divided into eight zones.
Curfew has been imposed in the Grand road,the venue of the rath yatra from Sunday 8 PM which will continue till 8PM of Tuesday.Police personnel have positioned themselves on rooftops of houses and buildings located alongside the Badadanda.
All the three chariots will be put under three layers of security ring and the security around Gundicha temple has been beefed up as all the three chariots would reach their final destination before sun set today.
The Badadanda has been made colourful with rangoli and graffiti besides placing of flower plants. The Tracks for passage of chariots have been drawn in white colour on the black pitch along the entire Grand road.
The temple administration has taken a number of steps from setting up of about twenty first aid centres along both the sides of three km stretch of grand road to raising of two large rest places at both the ends of Badadanda.
About 2200 servitors and an equal number of temple officials, police and journalists have undergone the RT-PCR test.The Gundicha temple has been given a face lift while Saradha bali the legendary Nalini river bed has been refilled with fresh sand.
Entire Grand road has been black topped barring a 500 x500 metre patch of area in front of Nakachanadwar of Gundicha temple (exit gate) which has been left to recount the memory of Saradha bali. Old sand was removed and truck loads of new sand has been filled.
The Gundicha temple complex where the three presiding deities will stay for nine days has been illuminated and decorated with flowers.(UNI)