"Month-long Ratha Festivals have started in various parts of the city, including Moulali in central Kolkata and Rashbehari in the south."
Kolkata, June 29 - Loud chants of Hare Krishna and Jai Jagannath reverberated in the air as thousands of devotees danced on the streets despite a nagging drizzle to revel in the spiritual fervour of the annual Ratha Yatra (chariot festival) here Sunday.
The splendidly decorated chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra wound their way through the city and elsewhere in the district towns and rural areas of West Bengal, with the young and the old, the rich and the poor, participating in the celebration.
The festival organised by International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) for the 43rd year saw devotees from 15 countries including India lending a hand in pulling the multi-hued chariots.
In a display of spirituality and worshipfulness, the believers sang and danced the four km stretch from Park Circus, Maidan to Outram Road to the rhythmic beats of cymbals and drums.
The chariots were taken to the sprawling Brigade Parade Ground, where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee inaugurated the festival by performing the 'Maha Aarti'. She also distributed prasadam.
The chariots will be kept at the ground till July 7, when they will make the return journey or Ulta Rath, July 18, bringing the festival to an end.
Ratha Yatra marks the annual journey of the three deities from the 12th century Jagannath temple, in Puri, Odisha, to their aunt's residence by devotees, in the Gundicha temple, around three km away.
As a sideshow to the festival, a fair has been organised at the parade ground where devotees will participate in song, dances, kirtans (devotional songs) and various other cultural programs.
In the lanes and bylanes of the city, children took out miniature wooden chariots and tugged them along.
Over 50,000 pilgrims attended the Ratha Yatra festival at Mahesh in Hooghly district. A few lakh devotees have also gathered at Mayapur in Nadia district on the occasion.
The 295-year old Rath Yatra - the oldest in the state - organised by Subarna Roy Choudhury's clan, started from Barisha, in the city's southern outskirts to Halishahar in North 24-Parganas.
Month-long Ratha Festivals have started in various parts of the city, including Moulali in central Kolkata and Rashbehari in the south.
Elaborate security arrangements have been made in the city and the outskirts to prevent any untoward incident during the festival.