|Devotees throng the rath yatra from Jagannathpur Temple in Ranchi on Thursday while Bokaro Steel CEO A Maitra (above) wields the ceremonial broom. (Prashant Mitra and Pankaj Singh)
An overcast sky, nagging drizzle with occasional downpour, but Ranchi could not care less.
Balabhadra Subhadrastmbh Jagannath nammo namah — the pious chant kept blaring out of loudspeakers as devotees, armed with umbrellas and raincoats, trekked uphill to the historic Jagannathpur Temple, located about 12km from the capital, to take part in rath yatra festivities. By 10am, the turnout was roughly over 25,000.
“We are expecting over a lakh devotees by the end of the day. The crowd will swell with time,” said Suman Singh, a volunteer of Jagannath Sarna Samiti, one of the groups entrusted with the job of crowd management.
Some came from far-off Palamau, Chatra, Simdega et al, just to catch a glimpse of the mammoth chariot. “I graduated this year. I had promised myself that if I pass with good marks, I would pull the chariot. So, I am here,” smiled Sudhir Manjhi, who trooped in with friends from Chatra.
Somewhat alarmed by the sight of so many people, all eager to pull the chariot, Sudhir added: “I hope that I get a chance to fulfil my wish.”
After the initial prayers, the divine siblings of Lord Jagannath, Subhadra and Balabhadra were put on the chariot around 2.30pm. “People will get the chance to offer prayers and seek blessings till the chariot starts moving at 4.30pm,” said a temple official.
On the day of rath yatra every year, Lord Jagannath, along with Subhadra and Balabhadra, go for a nine-day trip to mausi bari, a small temple located about a kilometre from the main temple.
Explaining the significance of the day and how rath yatra came to be celebrated, a senior priest of the temple, Ramesh Padi, said: “Lord Jagannath and his two siblings go to king Indraghuman and queen Gundicha’s house to rest for nine days. The lore goes that both were devotees of Jagannath and built a temple in Puri for him. Pleased with their devotion, the lord asked them to make a wish. Gundicha requested Jagannath to come to her house for nine days every year to rest. The lord, who considered her to be his mausi (aunt), agreed.”
Besides the customary chariot procession, a nine-day fair at the adjoining temple grounds is also a big draw. Vendors from across the state and also from neighbouring Bengal and Bihar have set up makeshift shops, looking to make a quick profit by selling sweets, prasad and furniture.
“I come here every year to do brisk business by selling traditional sweets like khaja, gaja, peetha,” said Shambu Sahu of Bihar.
Locals, too, cash in on the opportunity to earn some cash by way of managing parking space and selling puja paraphernalia like incense sticks, flowers, coconuts etc.
“I have taken off from college and have set up a shop at the mela to earn some pocket money,” said Mahesh Munda.
Security arrangements have been beefed up. According to a police officer, around 400 jawans had been posted in and around the temple to keep troublemakers at bay. “These men will be on vigil on day one and day nine, that is during the return journey. For the remaining days too, enough personnel have been deputed,” he said.
Chief minister Arjun Munda, who is confined to bed since the chopper crash, inaugurated the traditional rath mela at Kharsawan online. In his message, he prayed for social harmony and overall growth of the state.
He regretted the fact that he could not participate in the grand celebrations and enquired about steps taken to ensure hassle-free celebrations for the devotees.