Rath Yatra 2021 began on Monday amid strict restrictions due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For the second consecutive year, celebrations were kept to a minimum, with many states adhering to the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in 2020. As the nine-day long festival, Rath Yatra began in Odisha from Monday, a two-day curfew has been imposed and a total of 65 platoons of police force have been deployed across Puri.
The Rath Yatra is dedicated to Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Lord Balabhadra and his sister Goddess Subhadra. The festival marks their annual journey from the 12th-century Jagannath Temple in Puri to the Gundicha Temple, 2.5km away. Nine days later, they will 'return' home.
While the massive, heavily-built wooden chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra are traditionally pulled by thousands of devotees over the distance, COVID-19 has severely restricted this. Devotees watched through livestreams, and the only servitors in attendance were those who had received their vaccine shots and tested negative for COVID-19.
With chants of "Hari Bol" and "Jai Jagannath" the three deities -- Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra -- came down from the 'Ratna Simhasan' and boarded the chariots for their annual sojourn after performance of 'pahandi' rituals on Monday.
The 'Pahandi Bije' was started with Lord Balabhadra, followed by Devi Subhadra and Lord Jagannath. Servitors escorted the idols of the deities from 'Ratna Simhasan' to their chariots -- Taladhwaja, Darpadalana and Nandighosa -- in a ceremonial procession. Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha performed 'Chhera pahara', the ceremony in which he sweeps all chariots, one after another. The chariot pulling also began with Lord Balabhadra's Taladhwaja.
Lord Jagannath's Rath, Nandighosha (also known as Garudadhwaja, Kapiladhwaja) is about 44 feet tall and has 16 wheels. Balbhadra's chariot is called Taladhwaja or Langaladhwaja, and it stands 43 feet in height and has 14 wheels. Subhadra's chariot is 42 feet tall and has 12 wheels.
Millions of devotees in Odisha and across the world, witnessed the ceremony on their TV sets, mobile phones and computers during the live telecast and streaming of the rituals and procession.
The Odisha State Government had allowed and permitted to conduct the Rath Yatra only in Puri Jagannath temple with strict COVID-19 restrictions and protocols. Earlier on Tuesday, the Supreme Court rejected a batch of petitions seeking direction to conduct Rath Yatra across Odisha and not only in Puri Jagannath temple, as permitted by the Odisha State Government in its order earlier.
(With inputs from agencies