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Thousands watch annual Ratha Yatra festival

Puri: In the backdrop of a terror threat, the world-famous Ratha Yatra festival was celebrated here amidst tight security and religious fervour. Thousands of devotees descended on this pilgrim town to look at the presiding deities of the 12th century shrine of the Sri Jagannath Temple and the ceremonial pulling of the chariots. "Elaborate security arrangements have been made in view of intelligence inputs about possible terror threat and likelihood of some groups creating disturbance," DGP Manmohan Praharaj said.

Over 7,000 police personnel have been deployed for the purpose, he said. Undeterred by the security threat, devotees lined the "Bada Danda", the grand avenue, through which the three majestic and colourful chariots rolled along. As the presiding deities, Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Lord Balabhadra and their sister Devi Subhadra, set out from the sanctum sancorum of the temple, a number of special rituals like "Mangla Arati" and "Mailam" were held.

The three deities were taken out of the "Ratna Sinhasana" down 22 steps, known as "Baisi Pahacha", and through the Lion`s gate in an elaborate ritual called "Pahandi" as devotees and sevayats jostled to have a glimpse. In a rhythmic style, the deities moved forward step by step to the beating of bells (ghantas) and `kahalis` and blowing of konch shells. Carrying 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 layars of red, black, green and yellow cloth.

The 45-foot-high "Nandighosh", the chariot of Lord Jagannath, stood majestically with 16 huge wooden wheels. Of the two other chariots, `Taladhwaja` is 44-foot-high with 14 wheels and the other is Balabhadra`s and Subhadra`s `Darpadalan` which is 43 feet high and has 12 wheels.

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