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Euphoria through Italian eyes

- Towering chariots & energy of Jagannath devotees captivate Puri royal family’s guests

Puri, June 29: They were elated and thrilled to see the devotion even before they saw the deities. The group of seven Italians from Sicily, who were guests of the royal family of Puri, had the experience of a lifetime when they watched the festival for the first time.

The patient but abundant crowd of devotees, the most unique ceremonies and rituals of the festival and the hospitality of their hosts made it a memorable event for them.

Colourful patterns of the chariots had captivated Valentina, Fabiana, Andrea, Mimmi, Pietro and the two Maurizios, who were then moved by the devotion of the masses who had thronged Grand Road since midnight yesterday to reserve a closer place to the cordoned area for the morning rituals.

“When we reached here, we were fascinated to see the three towering chariots for the three deities. The stunning designs on the clothes wrapped as the hood of the chariots are so simple yet striking and the several attractive colours painted everywhere from the wheels to the pillars and other boundaries of the chariot floor are gorgeous,” said Valentina.

Fabiana said: “But it was the energy and ecstasy of the Jagannath followers that took us to another world. Their state of bliss has the influence to take any onlooker to a peaceful trance evening chaos.”

Heat and humidity challenged their plans of viewing the proceedings from the terrace of the Rani Nagar in the house of Ranannaba Deb or Thatta Raja, a significant senior member of the royal family of Puri. So the group preferred staying indoors for the first couple of hours till the pahandi began.

“We have been extremely fortunate to have such wonderful hospitality and warmth of the royal family. We had a great traditional lunch with the family. The dishes tasted beautiful. They were nothing like we’ve had before,” Fabiana said. “We chose to watch the initial ceremonies of the festival on the television since we did not really dare to come out of the air-conditioned indoors.”

The tourists, however, could not resist watching the festival customs and services once the pahandi (or escorting of deities one after another to their respective chariots) began. “We saw the deities and were lucky to get such a chance to see the unique idols of the Holy Trinity,” Valentina said.

“Our other friends, who are unable to express their excitement because they are not so fluent in English, were equally delighted to see the one-of-its-kind service by the Gajapati, who swept the floor of the chariots with a broom with a golden handle.”

They were very excited to witness the most significant event of the day of rath yatra –pulling of the chariots.

“The devotees got a chance to pull the cars of their deities themselves. It’s such a beautiful festival. The best part is that when the chariots were pulled we could see a clear rainbow in the sky around that area. Everything really looked fantastic and euphoric. It has been a very special experience,” said Fabiana, translating what Pietro and Mimmi said in Italian.

Initially awed by the crowd, the visitors later planned to be a part of it. They were too thrilled to resist it and hence, when the Nandighosha of Lord Jagannath halted for sometime midway, they went straight in front of the chariot to see the deity from as close as possible.

“We are feeling so joyful that it’s not possible to describe in words, and definitely not in a language that is not your mother tongue. It has been a dreamy trip, this rath yatra tour,” said Valentina, who, on behalf of her friends, promised to return to Odisha.