Ahmedabad: The annual chariot festival of the Hindu god Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra started here Tuesday morning with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi flagging off the daylong procession amid the chanting of hymns.
The 133rd Jagannath Rath Yatra started from the Jagannath temple at Jamalpur locality at 7 a.m. with Modi performing the `pahandi` ritual (carrying the deities from the temple to the chariots) and cleaning the Lord`s chariot with a golden broom.
He then pulled the ropes of the chariot to embark on the 22 km long `nagarcharya` procession, that will wind it`s way through Ahmedabad through the length of the day.
Minister of State for Home Amit Shah was present at the temple along with other political leaders and other dignitaries.
The procession comprises 18 decorated elephants and 18 trucks displaying various `akhadas` and `bhajan mandalis`. Before the start of the yatra, tribals performed the traditional folk dance at the temple.
A huge crowd thronged the temple and then joined the procession as it began its journey under the watchful gaze of 14,000 police personnel who had spread out through the city.
A tiered structure of around 600 assistants and sub-inspectors, 275 inspectors, 77 assistants commissioners, 31 deputy commissioners watched over by five joint commissioners of police marks the security blanket thrown over Ahmedabad to ensure the peaceful conduct of this magnum annual religious event of Gujarat.
"We are prepared for all eventualities and have worked out the security for the event with care and foresight, since Ahmedabad has for long been in the crosshairs of terror networks," said Satish Sharma, joint commissioner of police.
The arrest of two suspected activists of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) from here Monday night had heightened security fears. However, officials said the arrests of the two with arms and ammunition had not dampened enthusiasm for the festival.
"As far as altered security perceptions are concerned, the only change is that anti-sabotage vigilance has been intensified after the SIMI members` arrests," said Sharma.
CCTV cameras have been set up in the whole route of the chariot journey, which includes sensitive areas like Kalupur, Dariapur and Shahpur.