Kolkata, July 18 (IANS) The streets reverberated with chants of “Hare Krishna” as thousands of devotees from across the world pulled the decked-up chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra during the annual “Ratha Yatra” (chariot festival) celebrated here on Saturday.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee paid obeisance to Lord Jagannath at the start of the Rath Yatra at the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) temple on Albert Road.
Banerjee flagged off the festival with a tug on the rope as believers sang and danced all the way through to the rhythmic beats of cymbals and drums.
“This year #NabakalebaraRathaJatra is being celebrated. This is very special. Let us maintain communal harmony during festivals,” she said.
Devotees from 100 countries, including the US, Italy, France, Malaysia and Singapore descended on the eastern metropolis to celebrate the festival.
Celebrities from the regional film industry including actor and Trinamool Congress MP Dev and actress Koel Mullick also participated in the gaiety.
The chariots will be pulled through Minto Park, Sarat Bose Road, Hazra Road, Hazra crossing, Ashutosh Mukherjee Road, Exide crossing, J.L. Nehru Road before being parked at Brigade Parade Ground on Outram Road till July 25.
The chariots would be kept at the Brigade Parade Ground for the next seven days before making the return journey or Ulta Rath on July 26 that would mark the end of the festival.
At the grounds, worship of Lord Jagananth will be organised from July 18 to 25. Sacrament will be distributed during the period.
Cultural programmes would include shows by Dona Ganguly’s dance troop and performances from foreigners.
IIT Kharagpur students will also hold classes on reducing stress and mental fatigue, and stalls will be installed for married couples and others who could ask questions about their day-to-day problems.
The day saw children sporting new clothes and tugging miniature wooden chariots in the bylanes and lanes of the city.
Tribal artistes from Odisha enthralled audiences with their lively performances.
The festival marks the annual journey of the three deities from the 12th century Jagannath temple, in Puri, Odisha, to their aunt’s residence in the Gundicha temple, around three km away.