Amid chants of 'Jai Jagannath', 'Hari Bolo' and blowing of conches and beating of cymbals by lakhs of devotees, the chariots of Lord Jagannath and his siblings, Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra reached Gundicha temple much before the scheduled time.
All rituals related to the Rath Yatra, starting from Pahandi Bije of the three deities, to Chhera Panhara completed much before the scheduled time and in a very high spiritual atmosphere.
Adorned with tahias (giant floral crowns), chants of Hari Bol and Jai Jagannath, the three deities along with Lord Sudarsan were brought out of the sanctum sanctorum in the ceremonial Pahandi procession to their chariots parked before Srimandir.
Puri Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati accompanied by his disciples and servitors offered prayers to the deities on their respective chariots.
Following this ritual, Gajapati Maharaja of Puri, Dibyasingh Deb arrived in his royal palanquin and carried out the Chhera Panhara ritual, the ceremonial sweeping of the chariots with a golden broom, amid chanting of hymns by the priests.
The pulling of chariots started at around 12.38 p.m. -- much ahead of the scheduled time of 4 p.m., and all three deities reached Saradhabali by evening.
Taladhwaja of Lord Balabhadra was pulled first followed by Darpadalana of Devi Subhadra and Nandighosa of Lord Jagannath. The Pahandi ritual at Mausi Maa Temple will be held on Saturday.
Beating high humidity, lakhs of devotees participated in the Rath Yatra, after a gap of two years. Notably, the Rath Yatra in the last two years was conducted without participation of people due to Covid-19 pandemic.
After a gap of two years, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik also visited Puri to witness the biggest festival of Odisha. State Governor Ganeshi Lal, the CM, Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and Orissa High Court Chief Justice S. Muralidhar pulled the chariot of Lord Jagannath in the morning. Union Ministers Ashwini Vaishnaw and Bishweswar Tudu and several state ministers visited the pilgrim town to witness the yatra.
"It is my privilege to pull the chariot of Lord Jagannath. May the Lord bless all. Jai Jagannath," Patnaik said in a tweet.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter and wrote, "Greetings on the special day of Rath Yatra. We pray to Lord Jagannath for his constant blessings. May we all be blessed with good health and happiness."
"Ratha Jatra constitutes the core of Odia identity and is an inseparable emotion for all of us. Fortunate and overwhelmed to seek blessings from Mahaprabhu on this special and auspicious day in Puri. May he bless us all!," Pradhan said.
Tight security arrangements have been put in place for smooth conduct of the festival and devotees can have safe darshan of deities, said Odisha DGP Sunil Bansal.
More than 180 platoons of police personnel, including 1,000 officers of various ranks are deployed in and around Puri to ensure safe conduct of the festival. The police made special arrangements for smooth flow of traffic.
The Rath Yatra is also celebrated in various other places of Odisha including Bhubaneswar, Baripada, Keonjhar and Koraput with participation of thousands of devotees.