Kolkata: Devotees revelled in the drizzle amid chants as the splendidly decorated chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra threaded their way through the city Wednesday during the annual rath yatra (chariot festival).
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee flagged off the annual rath yatra festival organised by International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), by sweeping the streets with a gold-plated broom.
Banerjee, who took part in the rituals, distributed prasadam before lending a hand to pull the rope of the chariots.
Amid jubilant chants of "Hare Krishna", thousands of devotees from across the world pulled the multi-hued chariots.
Themed on the world`s largest Vedic temple Chandrodaya Mandir, under construction at West Bengal`s Mayapur, the ISKCON rath yatra witnessed legions of devotees accompany the deities atop three chariots from Park Circus Maidan of south Kolkata to reach the Brigade Parade Ground in the central part of the city.
In a spirit of celebration and obeisance, the believers sang and danced all the way through to the rhythmic beats of cymballs and drums. A tableau depicting the replica of the Mayapur temple proved to be a big eye-catcher.
The festival marks the age-old annual journey of the three deities from the 12th century Jagannath temple in Puri, Odisha, to their aunt`s residence in the Gundicha temple, 3 km away. The festival is celebrated elsewhere too in the country by the faithfuls.
The chariots would be kept at the Brigade Parade Ground for the next seven days before making the return journey or Ulta Rath, July 18, marking the end of the festival.
As a sideshow to the festival, a fair has been organised at the Brigade Parade ground where devotees can participate in songs, dances, kirtans (devotional songs) and various other cultural programmes.
Folk and tribal artists from Odisha enthralled audiences with their performances while women participated in contests at making peetha (a type of sweet from West Bengal and Odisha).
Over 10,000 pilgrims attended the rath yatra festival at Mahesh in Hooghly district. A few lakh devotees have also gathered at Mayapur in Nadia district on the occasion.
The 295 years old rath yatra - the oldest in the state - organised by Subarna Roy Choudhury`s clan, started from Barisha, in the city`s southern outskirts to Halishahar in North 24-Parganas.
Month-long rath festivals have started in various parts of the city, including Moulali in central Kolkata and Rashbehari in the south.
Security has been beefed up in the city and the outskirts to prevent untoward incidents during the festival.