BHUBANESHWAR: For the first time ever, the annual Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath and his siblings began in absence of devotees at Odisha’s Puri on Tuesday. The annual festival is being celebrated after the Supreme Court’s nod to organise it in a limited way without public attendance.

The priests performed the “Mangala Aarti” early in the morning.

Amid blowing of conches and beating of cymbals, the ceremonial procession of the deities known as “Pahandi” – carrying the deities on chariots out of the temple — took place. The three deities were taken atop of the three traditionally decked up wooden chariots — Nandighosa (for Jagannath), Taladhwaja (for Balabhadra) and Devadalana (for Subhadra).

The chariots will be pulled to Gundicha temple in Puri, which is around 3 km away from the main Jagannath temple.

This year, no more than 500 people will be allowed to pull the chariots. They shall be permitted to do that only if they have tested negative for Covid-19. This number (500) shall include temple servitors and police personnel.

“All are cooperating for the smooth functioning of Rath Yatra as per the Supreme Court order. I request all devotees to stay at home and watch the live telecast of the festival,” said Balwant Singh, Puri district collector. The festival marks the annual journey of the three deities — Lord Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra — from the 12th century Jagannath temple to the Gundicha temple.

The festival ends after nine days when the deities make their way back to the Jagannath temple.

Following the Supreme Court direction, a partial curfew has been imposed in Puri and all the entry points to the town have been sealed since last night. No one would be allowed to come to the grand road.