Woman dies in stampede during Jagannath Rath Yatra

Puri (Orissa), July 13 (IANS) A woman devotee was killed and two people were injured in a stampede Tuesday during the annual Jagannath Rath Yatra (chariot festival), for which eight lakh people turned up in this Orissa temple town, police said.

The yatra marks the annual journey of three deities from the 12th century Jagannath temple in three splendidly decorated wooden chariots, pulled by devotees, to the Gundicha temple, about two kilometres away.

The woman fell in the melee while the chariot of Lord Balabhadra was being pulled by devotees, an offiicial of the Jagannath temple said.

She died on way to hospital. Two condition of two other people who were injured is stated to be stable, police said.

During the annual rituals, chariots of Hindu god Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra were pulled by devotees.

‘All the rituals were performed about two hours before the scheduled time. The number of people who witnessed the rituals would have been at least eight lakh,’ Laxmidhar Pujapanda, the temple’s public relations officer, told IANS.

The festival culminates nine days later when the deities make their way back home to the Jagannath temple.

The ceremonial processions of the deities known as Pahandi (carrying the deities out of the temple to the chariots) started at 8.20 a.m., about an hour before the scheduled time, Pujapanda said.

The pulling of the chariots started in the afternoon. ‘All the three chariots reached the Gundicha shrine at least two hours before the scheduled time,’ Panda said.

Meanwhile, sand artist Sudarsan Patnaik has created a five-foot-high sand sculpture in the city’s golden beach with a beautiful image of Lord Jagannath and three chariots using coloured sand.

Patnaik said thousands of tourists and devotees rushed to the site to catch a glimpse of the sculpture. He and students of his Sand Art Institute created the sculputre about five hours and using 10 tonnes of sand.

The nine-day chariot festival in Puri, some 56 kms from state capital Bhubaneswar, is held in the Hindu lunar month of Asadha, which falls in June-July.

The state government has made elaborate security arrangements with more than 5,000 policemen deployed across the city to maintain law and order and prevent any untoward incident, a senior police official told IANS.

Hundreds of policemen in plainclothes were also on duty Tuesday.

More than a dozen closed circuit TV cameras have been installed at various places to keep a watch and manage crowds, the official said.

Bomb detection and disposal squads and fire tender units are also ready to meet emergencies. The coast guard, which has stationed a ship in the Bay of Bengal close to the Puri coast, has also intensified patrolling along the sea route, he said.