One dies, 5 injured in stampede at Puri Rath Yatra; Over 300 suffer suffocation

Puri, July 7 (UNI) One devotee died and five others were injured, one seriously, in a stampede during the annual Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath, his elder Lord Balavadra, and their sister Devoi Subhadra of Sri Jagannath temple in this pilgrim town on Sunday.

The incident occurred as there was a mad rush among devotees to pull the chariot of Taladhwaj of Lord Balabhadra.

Sources reported that the stampede took place near Hindi School, where a 60-year-old man fell unconscious. He was rushed to the District Headquarters Hospital, where doctors declared him dead. The identity of the deceased has yet to be ascertained, according to hospital sources.

Five other devotees injured in the stampede were admitted to the hospital, where the condition of one was stated to be critical.

In addition, over 300 devotees were admitted to the hospital due to dehydration and suffocation due to the high humid conditions of the three-kilometre-long Badadanda, the venue of the Rath Yatra, being virtually turned into a sea of humanity.

President of India Droupadi Murmu, amid tight security, witnessed the grand event from a specially erected stage, circumambulated the three chariots, and initiated the pulling of the Taladhwaj of Lord Balabhadra and the Darpadalan chariot of Devi Subhadra.

This is the first time the country’s president has participated in the Puri Rath Yatra.

This year’s Rath Yatra is considered special due to a rare star conjunction, as per the temple almanack, which fell after 53 years. It reduced the Anasar period from fifteen to thirteen days, resulting in the “Netra Utshav,” “Nabajouban Vesha,” and Rath Yatra, the three important rituals, being observed on a single day on Sunday.

Odisha Governor Raghubar Das, Chief Minister Mohan Charan Majhi, Leader of Opposition Naveen Patnaik, Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, two Deputy CMs Pravati Parida and Kanak Vardhan Singh Deo, and many cabinet colleagues of the Chief Minister also witnessed the festival.

Lord Balabhadra, the elder brother, began the journey riding the Taladhwaja chariot at 4:50 PM, followed by sister Devi Subhadra in her Darpadalan chariot at about 6:00 PM. The Nandighosh chariot of Lord Jagannath started rolling at about 6:45 PM, a few metres from the main gate of the temple.

The chariots of Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra rolled down the Grand Road but stopped near Marichikot Chhak and Raj Palace, respectively, when the pulling of the chariots was suspended to be resumed on Monday morning.

The Odisha government had declared Monday a state government holiday as the temple administration had announced that this year the chariots would be pulled on Sunday and Monday.

Earlier, as soon as Lord Jagannath came out of the Simhadwar (main gate of the temple) in the Pahandi procession, swinging his giant floral tiara atop his head, devotees chanted religious hymns while “Hari bol,” “Jai Jagannath,” and “Huluhuli” filled the air. The devotees jostled to catch a glimpse of Jagannath in Pahandi. The sky was thick and overcast, and the humidity was very high.

As per the schedule, priests began the daily chores of the deities at 4:00 AM by performing Mangal Arati, Mailum, Abakash, Surya Puja, Rosa Homa, dressing the deities in new clothes suitable for the journey, and offering Khichdi Bhog.

Thereafter, the deities were escorted to Pahandi by the Daita servitors. Lord Balabhadra, the elder brother, was taken in Pahandi to his Taladhwaj Rath first, followed by Devi Subhadra to her Darpadalan Rath, and Lord Jagannath to his Nandighosh Rath.

The Pahandi procession was led by traditional temple musicians playing cymbals, ghantas, mridang, conch shells, and bugles, while Odissi dancers added more colour to the procession.

As a result of the timely performance of all rituals, the scheduled time for Pahandi was advanced by more than two hours. Considering the observance of three rituals today, the Pahandi, which was scheduled to commence at 1:10 PM, started at 11:10 AM and was completed by 2:20 PM.

Then Puri Shankaracharya Swami Neeschalananda Saraswati, accompanied by his disciples, came from Gobardhan Peeth and offered prayers to the deities on the chariots.

Gajapati Dibyasingh Dev came in a decorated palanquin from his palace and performed Chhera Pahanra (sweeping around the deities with a golden broom) on the three chariots. This ritual was completed by 4:40 p.m.

After fixing wooden horses to the Taladhwaja chariot of Lord Balabhadra, devotees were allowed to pull it by 4:50 PM. Then Devi Subhadra, on her Darpadalan Rath, rolled down the grand road, followed by the Nandighosh chariot of Lord Jagannath. The holy town was under unprecedented security cover for the president’s visit.

Later in the evening, Chief Minister Mohan Charan Majhi and Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan met Shankaracharya Swami Neeschalananda Saraswati at his Gobardhan Mutt. About 180 platoons of police personnel were deployed, apart from RAF, ODRAF, NDRF, bomb disposal units, and fire services units, to control the crowd and ensure the smooth observation of the Rath Yatra.

Artificial intelligence CCTV cameras were installed alongside Badadanda and at other important places. In addition, drone public address systems were used to monitor the movement of vehicles and pilgrim crowds in and around Puri from two integrated control rooms.

The Coast Guard vessels patrolled the Puri coastline while hundreds of lifeguards were deployed along the beach.

It was a tough time for the fire services personnel, as they had to continuously sprinkle water on devotees from hand-held water jets at various places along the Badadanda to bring down the temperature. Three additional DGPs and half a dozen IGPs oversaw the security arrangements, while Chief Administrator of the temple Vir Vikram Yadav, District Magistrate Sidharth Shankar Swain, and Superintendent of Police Pinak Mishra managed the festival arrangements.

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