Kolkata, July 14 (IANS) Thousands of devotees chanting “Jai Jagannath” and “Hare Krishna” pulled the ropes, as West Bengal celebrated the Chariot Festival or Ratha Yatra, Lord Jagannath’s annual visit to his aunt’s house, with gaiety and religious fervour on Saturday.
The centre-piece of the celebrations were two colourful chariot processions brought out by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) here and its global headquarters Mayapur in Nadia district, both of which drew huge crowds of devotees cutting across religious, social and economic barriers.
In Kolkata, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee inaugurated the 47th edition of the ISKCON Rath yatra by symbolically tugging at the ropes after doing the ritual sweeping of the road with a golden broom. Lok Sabha member and actress Moonmoon Sen, Bollywood heroine Bhagyashree and Tollywood actor Sohum Chatterjee were among those present.
In her remarks of the occasion, Banerjee said: “We all must remember that religion belongs to our souls. The religious celebration of Ratha Yatra is for everyone. Lord Jagannath, Balaram and their sister Subhadra belong to everyone.”
As the three decked up chariots of Lord Jagannath, his brother Balaram and their sister Subhadra rolled on the streets, people in thousands pulled the ropes and gleefully accepted the ‘prasad’, distributed by the monks of the religious order.
The procession wound its way through Hungerford Street, JC Bose Road, Sarat Bose Road, Hazra Raod, Syamaprasad Mukherjee Road, Asuthosh Mukherjee Road, Chowringhee Road to finally reach the Brigade Parade Ground where the chariots would halt for seven days at the makeshift Gundicha temple.
The chariots would embark on their return journey or Ultarath Yatra on July 22, and come back to the ISKCON Temple on Albert Road.
This year, a highlight of the ISKCON Rathyatra is an international menu that includes pizza, lasagne, noodles, momos, Russia salad, ratatouille and strawberry pie that will be presented to the deities as the ‘Bhog’.
People from Thailand, Russia and Brazil have arrived in Kolkata for preparing the special ‘Bhog’.
Almost a lakh people watched in awe and pulled the carts of Jagannath, Balaram, Subhadra at Mayapur, with almost 1000 ISKCON devotes from 62 countries braving the hot and humid conditions to dance and loudly sing kirtans through the six-km-long stretch.
The proceedings began at around 2 p.m. at Rajapur Jagannath temple amidst blowing of conch-shells and drum beat, as devotees began the rituals by carrying the deities from temple to their respective carts.
The procession included tribal dances, and tableaux depicting cartoon characters Chota Bhim, Doremon besides Kalia Daman and Annat Sesh Lila of Lord Krishna.
The 622ndRath Yatra at Mahesh in Hooghly district’s Sreerampore, considered the second oldest chariot festival in the world, saw lakhs of people from various countries gathering to take a look at the gigantic four-storied iron chariot.
Also, the 242-year-old chariot festival at Mahishadal in East Midnapore attracted thousands of people.
The festivities engulfed the entire state. Children were seen sporting new clothes and tugging miniature wooden chariots in the bylanes and lanes of the city.
A large number of fairs have sprung up in a large number of urban and rural pockets of the state, where people relished ‘papad’ (poppadums).
The festival marks the annual journey of the three deities from the 12th century Jagannath temple at Puri in Odisha, to their aunt’s residence in the Gundicha temple, 3 km away. The festival is celebrated elsewhere too in the country by the faithful.
Security has been tightened across the state to prevent any untoward incidents.