Lakhs of people witness Jagannath Rath Yatra in Puri

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Devotees take part in the annual Rath Yatra, in Puri.

Devotees take part in the annual Rath Yatra, in Puri.

Puri: Lakhs of people pulled forward giant chariots from the 12th-century Jagannath temple in Puri towards Gundicha temple, around 2.5 km away, as Rath Yatra festivities began in Odisha on Sunday.

However, the celebrations were somewhat marred by the death of a devotee and eight people falling ill due to suffocation while pulling the chariots in the evening, officials said.

Chief Minister Mohan Charan Majhi announced ex gratia of Rs 4 lakh for the next of kin of the deceased, identified as Lalit Bagarti of Balangir district, and expressed his condolences.

He also instructed officials concerned to ensure the best available medical care for the injured devotees.

Health Minister Mukesh Mahaling said he himself was monitoring the situation in Puri.

A few people, including a policeman, were also injured in a stampede-like situation while pulling Lord Balabhadra's chariot, officials said.

The injured persons were sent to the hospital, they said.

The 'yatra' started around 5.20 pm after Puri Shankaracharya Swami Nischalanada Saraswati visited the chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra with his disciples and the Puri's titular king completed the 'Chhera Pahanra' (chariot sweeping) ritual.

President Droupadi Murmu performed a 'parikrama' of the three chariots and bowed before the deities.

The president, Governor Raghubar Das, the CM and Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan symbolically started the 'yatra' by pulling the ropes of Nandighosh -- the chariot of Lord Jagannath. Leader of Opposition Naveen Patnaik also had a 'darshan' of the sibling deities.

The 'yatra' stopped after moving a few metres, and will resume on Monday morning in a departure from the tradition.

"With the blessings of Lord Jagannath, all the rituals have been completed on time on Sunday. A large number of devotees have reached the town to witness the festival and the weather condition has also remained favourable," said Chief Secretary Manoj Ahuja.

The sibling deities ascended their respective chariots after the completion of the three-hour-long 'Pahandi' ritual at 2.15 pm.

'Jai Jagannath' chants, sounds of gongs, conches and cymbals reverberated through the air at the Singha Dwar of the Puri temple as Lord Sudarshan was first escorted to Darpadalan, the chariot of Devi Subhadra.

Following Lord Sudarshan, Lord Balabhadra was taken to his Taladhwaja chariot. Goddess Subhadra, the sister of Lord Jagannath and Lord Balabhadra, was brought to her Darpadalan chariot in a special procession by servitors.

Finally, Lord Jagannath was taken to his chariot in a ceremonial procession amid the sounds of gongs. In the 'Pahandi' ritual, deities are brought from the temple to the chariots.

Descending from the 'Ratna Sinhasana', the bejewelled throne, the three deities were taken out of the temple down the 22 steps known as 'Baisi Pahacha' through the Singha Dwar.

Several rituals like 'Mangla Arati' and 'Mailam' were held before the presiding deities set out from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.

Around a million devotees are estimated to have converged here for the annual festival. While most of the devotees were from Odisha and the neighbouring states, many from abroad also joined in what is considered one of the largest religious processions globally, officials said.

"With the blessings of Lord Jagannath, with a committed mindset, we have completed the 22 hours long rituals in eight hours, due to which, the Pahandi ritual was completed two hours before scheduled time," said Ramakrushna Dasmohapatra, a senior servitor of the temple.

Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) chief administrator V Yadav said, "All happens as per the wishes of Lord Jagannath." In a post on X, President Murmu said it was a deeply divine experience to witness Rath Yatra in Puri.

"I too participated in this centuries old spiritually elevating event and felt one with the mass of devotees that thronged this holy place. For me, it was one of those blessed moments that make us aware of the presence of the Supreme Being. May there be peace and prosperity around the world by the grace of Mahaprabhu Jagannath!" she wrote.

This year, the annual Rath Yatra is being celebrated over two days here.

In a departure from tradition, some of the rituals, including 'Nabajouban Darshan' and 'Netra Utsav', were conducted on Sunday. These rituals are generally held ahead of the Rath Yatra.

Tight security arrangements have been put in place, with the deployment of 180 platoons of security personnel, Puri Superintendent of Police Pinak Mishra said.

Artificial intelligence-based CCTV cameras have been installed at Badadanda, the venue of the festival, and other strategic locations in the pilgrim town, said ADG (law and order) Sanjay Kumar.