| The king before the ceremony in Puri. Picture by Sanjib Mukherjee
Puri, April 8: The much-awaited Gahan Bije ceremony of the Puri Queen began after a delay of two hours today.
Carried in a decorated palanquin away from public eye, queen Lilabati Pattamahadei fulfilled her lifelong wish of visiting the Lords at their abode and offering puja.
The event was delayed for nearly two hours as the temple rituals preceding it took time to get over. Jagannath temple had remained closed to visitors from 3 pm.
At about 5.30 pm, the traditional drummers and trumpeters started playing their instruments, announcing the beginning of the ritual. The entire Grand Road remained crowded as tourists, pilgrims and residents jostled to witness the rare occasion.
The stretch — from the royal place to the Singh Dwar (the main entrance of the temple) — had been barricaded and police had a tough time controlling a swelling crowd of 50,000.
After the madhyanha dhoopa and Nakshatra Puja, the temple sevayats started “sodha (purification)” of the temple premises around 4 pm and within half an hour the entire premises of Kurma Bedha was sanitised. The small temples around Kurma Bedha, except Bata Ganesh, Bata Mangla, Satyanarayan, Nrusingh Mandir, Bimala Mandir, Bhubaneswari and Mahalaxmi Mandir, were locked.
“We had made arrangements to prevent entry of people from the outer ring to the inner circle of the temple during Gahan Bije,” said Puri SP Sanjeev Panda.
After the ceremonial Bije Kahali (trumpets) were blown, the King emerged in his regal finery and boarded the tamzan, a handcart carried by six able-bodied men. The queen’s palanquin, painted in white and elegantly decorated with cloth screens sporting the Vaishnavite moon glided on the barricaded pathway, following the king at about a distance of 10 ft, carried by equal number of men. There was heavy security around both the palanquins.
Sevayats carrying colourful flags and ceremonial fans completed the entourage amid descending evening. Eleven swanky cars carrying 22 members of the royal family followed.
The 11-year-old priest, Loknath, walked along with the king’s palanquin. While the king and others got off at the Singh Dwar, the queen was carried directly inside the Kurma Bedha. The queen went on to wash her feet near Bata Ganesh and offered puja inside the sanctum sanctorum, where the little priest and a maid helped her and the king perform the rituals.
The king tied a saree around the queen’s head, symbolically recognising her as the sevika.
“After today the queen can visit the temple any number of times, but can carry out the seva only once,” declared Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingh Deb.