Puri: Amid tight security, the world famous annual Ratha Yatra of Lord Jagannath was held here on Sunday with fanfare, religious fervour, enthusiasm and a spirit of camaraderie.
Thousands of devotees from across the country and abroad descended on the pilgrim town of Puri in Odisha to have a glimpse of the presiding deities of the 12th century shrine of Sri Jagannath as they mingled with the sea of humanity during the annual festival of chariots.
"Elaborate arrangements have been made to provide a thick security cover by engaging as many as 6,520 personnel besides putting air and coast surveillance in place", a senior police official said.
"Indian Coast Guard will keep a vigil in the sea while aviation authorities have been urged to ensure that no flight operate on Puri sky during the festival," he said.
Altogether 104 platoons (one platoon comprises 30 personnel) of police force, 1000 officers of various ranks and 2000 home guards have been deployed.
Personnel of Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS), Rapid Action Force (RAF) and sharp shooters were deployed in vital points while the Coast Guard kept a vigil on the sea.
Devotees poured into the sea side town since early morning to watch the ceremony and pull the three majestic and colourful chariots on the `bada danda`, the grand avenue, where security personnel were deployed in strength to prevent any untoward incident.
As the presiding deities, Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Lord Balabhadra and their sister Devi Subhadra - set out from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple, a number of special rituals like Mangla Arati and Mailam were held.
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 Lion`s gate in an elaborate royal ritual called "Pahandi" as devotees and sevayats jostled to have a glimpse and touch them.
In a rhythmic style, the deities moved froward step by step to the accompaniment of beating of ghantas (bells)and kahalis and blowing of konch shells.
The temple was thrown open to public only yesterday for "Naba Jaubana Darshan" of the deities as they remained confined in "Anasara Pindi" (recovery chamber) after the grand bath on "Snana purnima" on June 13.
The trinity proceeded majestically in rhythmic movement in their journey to the world outside during Pahandi.
At first Sudarshana, the celestial wheel of Krishna-Vishnu, was taken out and placed in the chariot of Subhadra followed by Balabhadra, Subhadra and finally Jagannath.
Ready to carry the deities for their annual nine-day sojourn to the Gundicha temple, about two km away, the three majestic wooden chariots waited outside draped in layers of red, black, green and yellow cloth.
The 45-feet high "Nandighosh" the chariot of Lord Jagannath stood with 16 huge wooden wheels, while the 44-feet-high "Taladhawaja" with 14 wheels is famous as Balabhadra`s and Subhadra`s "Darpadalan" was 43-feet high with 12 wheels.
The proceedings were watched by millions including a host of VVIPs and dignitaries while buildings on both sides of the grand avenue were occupied by thousands of people vying for a proper view.
Braving the scorching heat, devotees thronged the bada danda to watch the grand proceedings as security cordons were put in place around each chariot and policemen had a trying time controlling the surging crowd.