On Friday, almost a million pilgrims from around the country gathered in Puri for the Jagannath Rath Yatra. For the past two years, the Rath Yatra has been staged in Puri without devotees because of a Supreme Court ruling over the possibility of Covid infection spreading due to large-scale attendance. With Covid restrictions lifted, the state administration permitted individuals to attend the event this year on the condition that they wear face masks. The state government plans to give away 10 lakh masks to festivalgoers.
The Trinity- Lord Jagannath and his siblings Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra- were taken out of the 12th century temple to their respective chariots in a special ritual called Pahandi Bije in which the idols of Jagannath and Balabhadra are pushed, pulled, and dragged in rhythmic movement to the accompaniment of beating of drums, cymbals, blowing of conch, and chanting of their names by temple servitors.
The rites of the three deities began three hours ahead of schedule on Friday, with Mangala Alati and Mailama niti of Lord Jagannath completed at 3:30am. Chakraraj Sudarsan was initially led to the Nandighosha chariot, followed by Lord Balabhadra’s Pahandi to the Taladhwaja chariot, Subhadra to the Darpadalan chariot, and Jagannath to the Nandighosha chariot. The three chariots were dressed brightly. The Rath Yatra is the only occasion Lord Jagannath leaves his sacred dwelling so that people of all religions can visit him, as only Hindus are permitted to enter the temple on ordinary days.
180 platoons of police and over 1000 experienced officers have been deployed in temple town to oversee the massive gathering, with at least three inspector generals of police working under the direction of an extra director general of police. To combat the oppressive heat, 10 fire pumps have been stationed at Bada Danda, spraying water on the worshippers. The integrated control room has around 50 CCTV cameras mounted along the major route to monitor crowd movement.
An ambulance lane has been established, and around 500 life guards have been stationed along Puri beach in case of a rescue operation. Apart from ordinary trains, the railways would run 200 special DMUs to Puri from various locations. President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, Union Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnav, and other ministers sent their best wishes to the people.