Jaganath Puri Ratha Yatra


By editor - 27.6 2017

The temple town is packed, as neither a downpour on Saturday nor a heavy rain forecast for the next few days stopped devotees from reaching the hallowed place to watch the nine-day car festival, starting Sunday. The 3-km-long Grand Road, where the three colourful chariots of the sibling Deities will roll on amidst a million cheers on Sunday, is soaked in religious fervour.

The state government on Saturday gave finishing touch to preparations in the backdrop of a slugfest between priests and shrine administration over the ban on access of pilgrims onto chariots. The administration is also jittery after an axle of Goddess Subhadra's chariot broke on Wednesday, and was later replaced.

Riding on three colourful wooden chariots, Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra will set out on the 3-km journey to Gundicha Temple, Their birth place, amidst a pompous procession.

The millennia-old annual festival is billed as one of the world's longest surviving public celebrations. Even though a host of places on the Earth observe car festival with equal enthusiasm, the Rath Yatra at Puri is still the major crowd puller.

Unfazed by heavy rain on Saturday, thousands of devotees stood in long queues on Grand Road to enter the temple for darshan of the Deities, who were off limits to them since June 9, Debasnan Purnima festival. Restless devotees broke police barricades, leaving the cops on their toes.

"I am waiting with bated breath to catch glimpse of the Deities on chariots as foreigners like us are not allowed to enter the temple. It is the only occasion in a year when we have darshan of the Deities. Though weather experts predicted heavy rain, I will come and watch the Deities," said Harekrishna dasa, an ISKCON devotee from France.

Director General of police, K. B. Singh said adequate security arrangements have been made for smooth conduct of the festival. "The entire town, including the surrounding of Jagannath Temple, chariots, Gundicha Temple and sea beach have been fortified. Over 7,000 cops, including 125 platoons of police force have been mobilized," Singh said.

The pulling of the chariots is scheduled to start between 3.30 pm and 4 pm. Devotees will not be allowed to mount the chariots nor touch the Deities. "Devotees are strictly prohibited to climb the chariots throughout the nine days, as per 2014 Orissa High Court order. We will lodge police complaints if anyone violates the High Court order. Devotees can touch the chariots only at Gundicha Temple," another temple official said.

Over Rs 3 crore has been spent for this year's Rath Yatra. According to sources, around Rs 60 lakh was spent for the making of the chariots.

Foreign Devotees Elated to Watch Rath Yatra

The year-long wait of non-Hindus, mostly foreigners, is over. The sibling Deities of Jagannath Temple, which is off-limits to non-Hindus, will be out in the open on the day of Rath Yatra on Sunday for devotees, irrespective of caste and class and religion.

Elated the most are the foreign devotees. Even though most of them have been converted to Hinduism and are followers of Lord Krishna, their entry inside Jagannath Temple is still prohibited.

"My happiness knows no bounds. We are happy that the Deities will come out of the abode and give us darshan on chariots. It is my maiden visit to Puri on the occasion of Rath Yatra," said Ramakrishna dasa, an ISKCON devotee from Ukraine.

There are many frequent foreign visitors who are equally excited. A staunch believer in Lord Jagannath, Gouri dasa claimed to have participated in Rath Yatra celebration here since last five years.

"I am a diehard devotee of Lord Jagannath, who is incarnation of Lord Krishna. Jagannath's Rath Yatra holds much significance for me. So I have never missed the Lord's annual sojourn since 2012," he said.

Chaitanya dasa, another foreign devotee from New York said: "I too have attended Rath Yatra thrice. I am not much worried about the bar on our entry into Jagannath Temple. Devotion towards the Lord matters a lot for me."

Krishna Damodar dasa from Costa Rica and Prem Prabhu dasa from America also corroborated the feelings of others. All of them reached Puri a few days ago. "By following the path of Lord Krishna and Jagannath, we found a sea change in our lifestyle. We find eternal pleasure by chanting the names of Krishna and Jagannath," Krishna Damodar said. Sources said more than 300 hundred foreign devotees are in Puri to witness Rath Yatra.

Some of them are upset after the 2014 Orissa High Court verdict, banning access of pilgrims onto chariots. "I used to climb the chariots and touch the Deities. But since 2014, I have to stand amidst a milling crowd to catch glimpse of the Deities from a distance. It was the only occasion in a year when we were getting opportunity to embrace the Deities. It was a great feeling," said Gouri dasa.

There were raging debates in the past on whether non-Hindus and converted Hindus should be allowed into the Jagannath Temple, following reported harassment of some foreigners inside the temple. Those foreigners were caught inside the temple on a few occasions, and were allegedly booed by some priests.

"A number of Indians who are non-Hindus might be entering the temple. But since their skin colour and appearance look like Hindus, nobody doubts them. We are denied just as we are easily identifiable," an ISKCON devotee said.