One of India's biggest festivals, the Rath Yatra, began on Saturday in the holy land of Puri, Odisha.
Known as the Chariot Festival, this year's event is deemed as the century's biggest Rath Yatra and is significant for the Nabakalebara which is happening after a gap of 19 years, an ages old ritual that will incorporate replacement of idols of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan.
The grand process was kicked off in the month of March. That's when temple authorities began searching for appropriate darus — the neem trees out of which new idols are carved. This was followed by the process of brahma-parivartan which refers to the transferring of the deities' souls to the new idols.
With the cheers of Jai Jagannath, the devotees pull the long ropes of the three chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra upto the Gundicha Temple. This is why the Ratha Yatra is also, sometimes, known as the Shri Gundicha Yatra.
This year, the estimated number of people who will be a part of this holy festival is about 3 million. Considering the huge number of crowd, the state government of Odisha has left no stone unturned to provide maximum security throughout the event.
Reportedly, there will be 164 platoons of police, 12 superintendents of Police (SP) and 30 additional superintendents of Police (ASP) deployed to ensure smooth conduct of the event. Rapid Action Force (RAF) would also be deployed to constantly keep an eye on the crowd. More than 160 CCTV cameras have already been installed at various places of Bada Danda (Holy Road of the journey).
Rath Yatra is not only celebrated in Puri, but across the world including US, London and Indonesia, where the local communities have constructed Jagannath Temples. In India, Ahmedabad is considered to be the next big venue of the Y atra after Puri.
Amidst complaints of unpreparedness of the government for the holy festival, the devotees can only wish for the smooth completion of the grand yatra while seeking blessing from the Lord.
Having witnessed the grandeur of this holy event many years back, I stand witness to the dedication of the devotees from across the world who embark upon this journey and embrace the divinity by sincerely involving themselves in the Ratha Yatra.