Bhubaneswar: Lakhs of devotees thronged Odisha`s temple town of Puri on Thursday for the annual Rath Yatra (chariot festival) of Lord Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra, 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 am , Laxmidhar Pujapanda, the public relations officer of the temple administration, said.
More than three lakh devotees have already reached the town, around 56 km from the state capital Bhubaneswar by 9 am. By evening, the numbers could swell to more than a million, 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 on 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.
The state government has 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 said.
Hundreds of policemen have been deployed at the beach and about half a dozen closed circuit security cameras have also been installed at various places, he said.
Similarly, bomb detection and disposal squads and fire tenders have been engaged to meet emergencies. The Coast Guard has stationed a ship in the Bay of Bengal close to the Puri coast, and intensified patrolling along the sea route, he said.