Kolkata : The streets reverberated with chants of “Hare Krishna” as thousands of devotees from across the world pulled the decked-up chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra during the annual “Rath Yatra” (chariot festival) celebrated here on Saturday.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee paid obeisance to Lord Jagannath at the start of the Rath Yatra at the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) temple on Albert Road.

Banerjee flagged off the festival with a tug on the rope as believers sang and danced all the way to the rhythmic beats of cymbals and drums.

“This year Nabakalebara Ratha Jatra is being celebrated. This is very special. Let us maintain communal harmony during festivals,” she said.

Devotees from 100 countries, including the US, Italy, France, Malaysia and Singapore, descended on the eastern metropolis to celebrate the festival.

Celebrities from the regional film industry including actor and Trinamool Congress MP Dev and actress Koel Mullick also participated.

The chariots were pulled through Minto Park, Sarat Bose Road, Hazra Road, Hazra crossing, Ashutosh Mukherjee Road, Exide crossing, J.L. Nehru Road before being parked at Brigade Parade Ground on Outram Road till July 25.

The chariots would be kept at the Brigade Parade Ground for the next seven days before making the return journey or Ulta Rath on July 26 that would mark the end of the festival.

At the grounds, worship of Lord Jagananth will be organised from July 18 to 25. Prasad (sacrament) will be distributed during the period.

Cultural programmes would include shows by Dona Ganguly’s dance troupe and performances by foreigners.

IIT Kharagpur students will also hold classes on reducing stress and mental fatigue, and stalls will be put up for married couples and others who could discuss their day-to-day problems.

The day saw children sporting new clothes and tugging miniature wooden chariots in the bylanes and lanes of the city.

Tribal artistes from Odisha enthralled audiences with their lively performances.

The festival marks the annual journey of the three deities from the 12th century Jagannath temple, in Puri, Odisha, to their aunt’s residence in the Gundicha temple, around three km away.

Thousands of pilgrims attended the Rath Yatra festival at Mahesh in Hooghly district, one of the most popular rath yatras in Bengal.

Dating back to the 14th century, the Mahesh Rath Yatra draws devotees from all corners of the world for its gigantic four-storeyed iron chariot that has been in operation since 1885.

A few lakh devotees also gathered at Mayapur in Nadia district on the occasion.

The 295-year-old Rath Yatra – the oldest in the state – organised by erstwhile landowner Sabarna Roy Choudhury’s family – started from Barisha, in the city’s southern outskirts to Halishahar in North 24 Parganas.

Month long Rath Festivals have started in various parts of the city, including Moulali in central Kolkata and Rashbehari in the south.

Security has been beefed up in the city and the outskirts to prevent any untoward incident during the festival.

At the Indian Museum, special crafts from Odisha, such as masks of Lord Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra made from paper-pulp and depictions of the deities in coconut paintings were put on display to mark the occasion.

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