Odishatv Bureau

Puri/Bhubaneswar: The Bada Danda (Grand Road) in the holy town of Puri turned into a sea of humanity as nearly six lakh people, partook of the ecstasy of witnessing the world famous 'Ratha Jatra' of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra.

Chants of "Jai Jagannath" rent the air as devotees from all over the country - and even beyond - jostled for a glimpse of the Lords and pull their colourful chariots on the first day of the nine-day sojourn of the deities from the Lord Jagannath Temple to Gundicha Temple and back.

All rituals in the morning were conducted smoothly. The ‘pahandi bije’ of the deities, in which they are shifted to their respective chariots in a spectacular procession, was marked by religious frenzy with devotees dancing and singing amidst the chants of hymns to the heady beats of cymbals.

The Trinity inched ahead step by step in a majestic, rhythmic procession in their journey to the world outside amid the ear-splitting beats of ghantas and kahalis and blowing of conch shells.

Sudarshana, the celestial wheel of Krishna-Vishnu, was locks to be taken out and placed on the chariot of Devi Subhadra, followed by Balabhadra, and finally Jagannath.

Almost all the “neetis” were carried out on time.

The 'Shankaracharya' of Puri Govardhana Peeth, Swamy Nischalananda Saraswati had 'darshan' of the deities on the chariots.

The pulling of chariots, the eagerly-awaited moment for all the devotees, began at 4:40 pm, more than an hour behind schedule, after the ‘chhera panhara’ (the symbolic sweeping of the chariot floors) by Puri King Gajapati Dibya Singh Deb.

As ordained by centuries-old tradition, Taladhwaja, the chariot of Lord Balabhadra, was pulled first, followed by Debadalana, the chariot of Devi Subhadra and then Nandighosha, the chariot of Lord Jagannath, which began at 6:10 pm.

Sources said while Taladhwaja and Darpadalana halted near Balagandi square and Bagala Dharmasala on the Grand Road, Nandighosa could make it only up to the Srinaara (the palace of the Puri King). All the chariots will be pulled tomorrow to complete the 4 km long stretch to reach the Gundicha Temple.

With a large number of visitors thronging the holy town on the occasion, police threw a thick security blanket by deploying personnel in strength besides putting in place surveillance over air and sea.

A multi-layer security net had been thrown to ensure smooth conduct of the festival while CCTVs were installed at various locations to keep a tab on people, Director General of Police (DGP), K B Singh said.

Security was tightened outside the temple, around the three chariots and the Grand Road, sea beach, railway station and the bus stand, he said, adding patrolling was strengthened.

"We are well prepared to face any situation. Steps have also been taken to avoid any stampede-like situation," said a police official.

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.