Nearly 12 lakh devotees from different corners of the country and abroad participated in the spectacular colourful religious event popularly known as the “Car festival”. The devotees had started arriving in the temple town since Monday. The stampede occurred when the chariot of Balabhadra, one of the three deities of the Puri shrine, was being pulled. The devotee who lost her life in the mishap was identified as Bijoylaxmi Mohanty, a resident of Puri. The injured included a devotee from neighbouring West Bengal.
Eyewitnesses said the mishap occurred when a group of devotees pushed others from the back in order to touch the rope of the chariot. However, a few others claimed that it was a mild lathi-charge by the police to control the crowd that triggered the stampede. “The woman fell down and others ran over her,” said Mahendra Sahu, a devotee from nearby town of Sakshigopal.
Barring this incident, the religious event was by and large peaceful.
The Rathyatra began on Tuesday morning with the traditional “Pahandi Bije” or shifting of the three presiding deities of the Puri temple — Jagannath, Balabhadra and their sister Subhadra — from their podium known as “Ratna Singhasan” inside the sanctum sanctorum to the three colourful wooden chariots parked on “Bada Danda” or the Grand Road in front of the main Puri shrine which was packed with a sea of
The “Pahandi Bije” was followed by other rituals which included the famous “Chera Panhura” — the symbolic sweeping of the floors of the three chariots with a golden broom — by Dibyasingha Dev, the Gajapati Maharaja of Puri. The ritual is significant as it sends a message to the world that all, including the king, are the servants of the Lord.
After the rituals, the three well-decorated chariots known as “Nandighosa” (Jagannath), “Taladhwaja”(Balabhadra) and “Debadalana”(Subhadra) began their three kilometre long journey towards Sri Gundicha Temple.
The priests of the Puri temple sitting on the three chariots chanted slokas as devotees and security personnel pulled the Raths.
The three deities will have a seven day sojourn at the Sri Gundicha temple, considered to be their birth place, before making their return journey to the main shrine. The return journey or the “Bahuda Yatra” which is also known as the “return car festival” will be celebrated on July 21.
The Orissa government and Puri district administration had made elaborate security arrangements.