Stage Set for Puri Jagannatha's Annual Sojourn

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BY: SUN STAFF CORRESPONDENT - 18.7 2018

In the backdrop of the nationwide buzz over the Supreme Court's recent proposal to allow people of all faiths into Jagannath Temple and put a curb on servitors from collecting dakshina from devotees, the Deities of the 12th century shrine are all set to start their annual sojourn to Gundicha Temple, believed to be their birthplace, marking Rath Yatra on Saturday.

The Deities are scheduled to stay in Gundicha Temple till July 21 and proceed towards Jagannath Temple on Bahuda Yatra (return car festival) on July 22. The Deities will appear in golden avatar (Suna Besha) on Their chariots in front of Jagannath Temple on July 23. The curtains will come down on Rath Yatra on July 25, with the entry of the sibling Deities into the sanctum sanctorum, marking Niladri Bije festival.

Buoyed by clement weather, people from across the country and abroad already arrived in the temple town to watch the mega religious event. The 3-km long Grand Road, where the three colourful chariots of the sibling Deities would roll on amidst millions of cheers on Saturday, was soaked in religious fervour.

The Puri district administration on Friday gave finishing touch to the massive preparations. A number of ministers, bureaucrats and IPS officers have been camping in Puri since Thursday to oversee the preparations. Apprehending heavy rain, the administration has claimed to have made arrangements to tackle waterlogging on the Grand Road.

The millennia-old Rath Yatra 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 believed to be a major crowd puller. Director general of police R. P. Sharma said adequate security arrangements had been made for smooth conduct of the festival.

The pulling of the chariots was scheduled to start between 3.30 pm and 4 pm following ceremonial chherapahanra (sweeping of the chariot decks) by Puri king Dibyasingha Deb, who is revered as the first servitor of the Deities. Like previous years, the devotees will not be allowed to mount the chariots nor touch the Deities. Similarly, only duty-bound servitors will be allowed to remain on the chariots.

"Devotees are strictly prohibited to climb the chariots throughout the nine days as per 2014 Orissa High Court order. As per June 8 order of the Supreme Court, we will not allow servitors to collect dakshina from devotees. We have installed hundis on sides of the chariots to enable devotees to donate directly to the shrine," temple's Chief Administrator Pradipta Kumar Mohapatra said. Over Rs 3.5 crore has been spent for this year's Rath Yatra.

On the eve of Rath Yatra, a large number of devotees caught glimpse of the Deities in the temple on Friday. The Deities were off limits to pilgrims since June 28 Debasnan Purnima festival. "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 Ramaraj dasa, an ISKCON devotee from Russia.