| Devotees gather near the Lingaraj temple to pull the Rukuna rath on Ashokastami at Old Town in Bhubaneswar. Picture by Ashwinee Pati |
Bhubaneswar, April 7: The scorching sun failed to prevent thousands of devotees from pulling the Rukuna rath on the occasion of Ashokasthami in the city.
Around one lakh devotes turned up at the 11th century shrine of Lord Lingaraj to watch the proceedings. The festival is among the biggest in Bhubaneswar.
The rituals today started with aarti at 3.30am. Following other rituals, the bronze idols of three deities — Chandrasekhar (the representative of Lord Lingaraj), Rukmini and Basudev were installed on the 35-feet high chariot parked outside the shrine amid blowing of conchs, beats of gongs and the chant of hymns.
However, the chariot pulling started one hour after the scheduled time 4pm. “All rituals were performed on time, but the delay in chariot pulling was on account of delay in performing the ritual of sakala dhupa. The pahandi of the three deities took place around 1.30pm.
“The festival took place smoothly. We made elaborate arrangements for the devotes ensuring that the scorching sun did not affect them,” said the temple administration’s executive officer Abani Kumar Patnaik. The city recorded a maximum temperature of 39.7° Celcius today.
Hundreds of devotes were also seen standing on the roofs of houses along the rath road. “For the first time, I saw the Rukuna rath and also pulled it. Being a follower of Lord Lingaraj, this festival was a special one for me,” said Sanjay Singh, a devotee from Mayurbhanj.
As custom goes, the Rukuna rath never “takes a turn”. The chariot is drawn from behind when the bahuda (return journey) begins after the deities’ sojourn at the Mausima temple. The altar of the deities is only reversed.
The Rukuna rath, thus, is also called analeuta (the chariot that does not take a turn). The five-day festival concludes with bahuda yatra taking place on March 11.
Preparations for the rath yatra began yesterday with neta uchhaba (flag ceremony), a ritual in which the priests ceremonially purify the chariot and fix a flag on the top of it.
Then the chariot is washed with holy water from a well called Marichi kund. Later, this water is auctioned as it is believed that those women who are unable to conceive bathe with this water on the day can can have a baby. The first pot of water was sold for Rs 21,300 this time to Kendrapara resident Saraswati Swain. The police had also made elaborate arrangements for smooth conduct of the festival. As many as 30 platoons of police were deployed around the temple and other important places, including the rath road.