Bhubaneswar: Thousands of devotees have thronged the holy town of Puri in Odisha to witness the new millennium's first Nabakalebar Rath Yatra which will commence on Saturday.
The Odisha administration is pulling out all the stops to ensure a smooth conduct of the grand festival as it expects a congregation of 50 lakh devotees during the nine-day-long Rath Yatra and Suna Besha (Golden Attire of Lord Jagannath and His siblings) subsequently.
The annual yatra, which will commence from the Puri temple, will conclude at Shree Gundicha temple, covering nearly 2.5 km distance, in nine days. The yatra will conclude on July 29.
The administration has made arrangement of free bus service from the newly-constructed Malatipur bus terminus to carry pilgrims to the town, while the Railways ministry has announced running of 216 special trains to ferry passengers from across the country.
While a steady stream of tourists is pouring in, city hotels in Puri are already booked. There are about 500 hotels, 200 lodges, and about 100 ashrams and dharamshalas in Puri, said an official of the Hotel and Restaurants Association of Odisha (HARO).
Besides, the administration has set up 33 Nabakalebara villages (tourist shelters) across the town to accommodate tourists.
Odisha government has also deployed over 10,000 policemen for crowd management and to thwart any possible terror-incident.
"We are ready to face any exigencies during the festival. We have made elaborate security arrangement and sections of our police force are in sync with each other round the clock," said Puri's Superintendent of Police Asish Singh.
A five-layered security cordon has been put in place in Puri while over 200 closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras have been installed to keep a close vigil on the tourists' movement in the city.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has deputed four ministers and an army of bureaucrats to supervise the smooth functioning of the festival.
Meanwhile, a milling crowd was anxiously waiting for the 'Nabajauban Darshan' of the deities on the eve of the Rath Yatra. But this Nabakalebar year has debarred them from the darshan as per the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration's (SJTA) decision taking into consideration Saturday's grand festival.
According to SJTA, the darshan, if permitted to devotees, could delay the rituals for a timely and smooth conduct of the Rath Yatra. Such a plea has already been deposed by the SJTA before the Odisha high court.
On Friday, after the initial early morning and morning hour rituals in the sanctum sanctorum, the four deities -- Shri Sudarshan, Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Lord Jagannath -- are brought to the chariots on the Bada Danda (grand road) individually in a grand procession by the temple servitors.
Then, the prime ritual of the day 'Chhera Pahanra' (sweeping of the chariots) is solemnised by Puri Gajapati Dibya Singhdev followed by sprinkling of holy water and sandal.
This is a symbolic gesture by the king to convey the divine message of dignity of labour and equality.
Besides Gajapati, Puri Gobardhan Peeth Shankaracharya Nischilanand Saraswati, along with his coterie, visits the chariots and has darshan of the deities. Then begins the chariot pulling one by one in the afternoon to reach the destination of Gundicha temple from Shree Mandir.
The deities will have a nine-day sojourn at the Gundicha temple. And, they return to Shree Mandir only after completion of the nine-day Yatra on the same chariots called 'Bahuda Yatra' (return car festival).
The Nabakalebar festival, which started on March 29, will conclude on July 27 after the Suna Besha on the chariots itself.