Puri Rath Yatra to be special this time

This year’s annual Rath Yatra in Odisha temple town of Puri will not be a regular religious event the devotees across the world witness every year. It will be a special one because this time the three existing wooden idols of Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and their sister Subhadra, the presiding deities of the Puri shrine, will be replaced with new ones.

The event is known as Nabakalebara which was last celebrated 19 years back in 1996.
The Odisha government has already begun hectic preparations to make the mega event a grand success. “It is certainly going to be a very big religious event,” Suresh Mahapatra, the principal secretary in the state government’s energy department, who has been appointed as the officer on special duty (OSD) for the festival said. The senior IAS officer was collector, Puri, when the last Nabakalebara was held in the temple town.

The importance of the festival could be well assessed from the fact that besides Mahapatra, four other senior IAS officers including Chief Secretary Gokul Chandra Pati have been assigned separate tasks relating to the event. While Pati is supervising the infrastructure development, Aditya Padhi, the additional chief secretary and secretary to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik would be looking into security arrangements, temple affairs and traffic management.

Development Commissioner U N Behera has been asked to look after health facilities and drainage system. Finance Secretary R Balakrishnan has been assigned the job of brand promotion for the grand religious event. Naveen Patnaik himself has been periodically reviewing the progress of works that are going on in a rapid speed. The budget for the mega event is pegged at a whopping Rs 1,400 crore.

The event is scheduled to be flagged off in the last week of March with Banajoga Yatra, a ritual when specially designated servitors of the Puri shrine will begin their search for “daru” or woods which would be used for construction of the three idols.

The entire process is extremely fascinating and interesting. The group of servitors would walk up to Maa Mangala temple in Kakatpur, located a few kilometres away from Puri town. Within four to five days of reaching the temple, the presiding deity of the shrine – the goddess Mangala – would appear in the dreams of senior servitors in the group directing them where they should proceed to find the appropriate tree and collect the woods for the three idols.

Once the woods are collected, they would be transported to Puri and handed over to specially designated carpenters to make the three idols. The entire process – from identification and collection of woods to creation of the idols thereafter – would take about two months which will be followed by a series of important other rituals including a few “secret ones” that will be performed inside the Puri temple in isolation.

Limited access to rituals
A very few designated servitors would be present inside the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine when these secret rituals including shifting of the “soul” of the three deities from old idols to the new ones – which is called “Bramha Paribartan” – will take place. The three new idols would be ready for the devotees to have “darshan” by Rath Yatra which will be celebrated this year on July 18.

During the mega religious event, the biggest challenge for the administration would be to manage the huge gathering and maintain the law and order properly. About ten lakh devotees congregate in Puri during the Rath Yatra every year. However, nearly fifty lakh people are expected to turn up to take part in the annual festival this year because of Nabakalebara. About twenty two lakh people had gathered in Puri during the last Nabakalebara in 1996.

The state government is planning to deploy as many as 10,000 armed policemen who would provide a three tier security cover to the visiting devotees as well as the Puri shrine during the festival. As many as 150 CCTV cameras would be installed in the coastal town of which 32 would be placed inside the Puri temple complex. Special control rooms will be set up to monitor these CCTV cameras.

Extending proper healthcare to such a big gathering will also be an acid test for the state administration. The government’s health and family welfare department has prepared a budget of Rs 123 crore for the purpose. The state-run Puri district headquarters hospital as well as other healthcare centres in and around the temple town are being upgraded. During the festival, the health department is planning to deploy as many as 350 doctors including 150 specialists and 650 health workers to provide round the clock service to the visiting devotees.

To provide accommodation to such a large number of devotees, the existing hotels are being upgraded and new hotels have also come up in the temple town. Besides hotels, the visitors would also be accommodated in smaller lodgings and “dharamsalas” which are being upgraded too. The state government is constructing a temporary accommodation to house about one lakh devotees which will be called Nabakalebara village.

The mega religious event is already having its share of controversies with the opposition parties recently criticising the Patnaik administration alleging that the Nabakalebara preparations are going on at a snail’s pace and the infrastructure facilities will not be ready in time for the important religious event. The allegation has been denied by the government.

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