Amid high alert and tight security in the wake of serial blasts at Bodh Gaya, the world famous annual Ratha Yatra of Lord Jagannath celebrated on Wednesday with fanfare, religious fervour and a spirit of camaraderie.
Thousands of devotees from across the country and abroad descended on this seaside pilgrim town in Odisha to have a glimpse of the presiding deities of the 12th century shrine of Sri Jagannath as they mingled with the sea of humanity during the annual festival of chariots.
"Elaborate security arrangements have been made in view or the recent serial blasts at Bodh Gaya in Bihar as a precautionary measure," a senior police officer said.
Over 7,000 police personnel have been deployed and the force is alert to prevent any untoward incident during the annual car festival, he said adding people have also been asked to remain vigilant and cooperate with police whenever they come across any suspicious elements or objects.
Personnel of Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS), Rapid Action Force (RAF) and sharp shooters were deployed in vital points while the Coast Guard kept a vigil on the sea.
Undeterred by security threat, devotees poured into the town since early morning to watch the ceremony and pull the three majestic and colourful chariots on the 'Bada Danda', the grand avenue, where security personnel were deployed in full strength to prevent any untoward incident.
As the presiding deities, Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Lord Balabhadra and their sister Devi Subhadra - set out from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple, a number of special rituals like 'Mangala Arati' and 'Mailam' were held.
Descending from the Ratna Sinhasana (the be-jewelled throne), the three deities were taken out of the temple down the 22 steps known as "baisi Pahacha" through the Lion's gate in an elaborate royal ritual called "Pahandi" as devotees and sevayats jostled to have a glimpse and touch them.
In a rhythmic style, the deities moved forward step by step to the accompaniment of beating of cymbals and blowing of conch shells.