Agra, Sep 19 - The city of Agra wears a festive look as it is geared up for the Ram Barat or Hindu god Ram's wedding procession.
The barat, which started late Monday from the Ramlila ground here, is to take at least 12 hours to reach Balkeshwar, passing through the main city streets with nearly 30 musical bands belting out popular melodies.
The procession is complete with caparisoned elephants, horses, over 125 mobile floats depicting mythological events and characters and a huge crowd of 'wedding' enthusiasts dressed in their finery.
The annual tradition of three-day festivities goes back to about 125 years when Lala Kokamal, a cloth merchant, initiated these.
Actors playing Ram and his brother Lakshman will be decked up with gold and silver jewellery, apart from decorative crowns.
This year, high-tech floats with push-button operations will draw huge crowds, said an organiser.
The barat will be stationed in Janakpuri in Balkeshwar for three days, culminating in Ram's wedding to Sita. Artists from Kolkata and Mumbai were invited to build a special 105-foot-tall building called Janak Mahal, where the wedding party will stay.
A grand feast is on the cards Wednesday, a day after the royal wedding.
The entire Janakpuri area is decorated with spectacular lighting and flowers, backed by high-decibel music systems playing hit Bollywood songs.
'The Ram Barat is a unique event and quite unlike any such extravaganza in north India,' said Raj Kumar, one of the organisers. 'The sheer grandeur and scale of the show is mind-boggling and it attracts more and more people every year.'
Over a million people from Agra, its adjacent areas and neighbouring districts of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh will gather to witness the royal wedding.
Said Pramendra Jain, a Bajrang Dal activist: 'The Janakpuri celebrations are more like a big fete for the locals who eat, drink and shop, besides offering prayers to gods and goddesses.'
Nearly Rs.10 million will be spent on the extravaganza, Kumar said. However, legislator Jagan Prasad Garg said civic authorities would spend an additional Rs.30 million on road maintenance and lighting.
Heavy security has been provided for the coming days and at least 1,000 paramilitary personnel have been deployed to avert any untoward incident. Fire engines have also been pressed into service.