The drizzle, humid weather conditions and above all the fact that Puri is yet to recover from the devastation caused by cyclone Fani that hit a month ago failed to deter frenzied lakhs drowned in devotion to participate in the annual rath yatra of Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Lord Jagannath here on Thursday.

Perhaps for the first time in several years, the rituals were conducted before schedule and the three magnificent giant chariots of Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Lord Jagannath rolled down the street to reach Gudicha Mandir.

Every inch of the Grand Road was packed with devotees dancing in joy at the glimpse of the deities. Chants of ‘Hari Bol’ and ‘Jai Jagannath’ filled the air as did the beating of gongs and blowing of conchs.

For many sections who are debarred from entering the temple on grounds of caste and religion, it was once in a year opportunity to see and seek the blessings of the deities as they came out from their 12th-century abode to mingle with devotees.

The very sight of the three majestic tall and well-decorated chariots parked in front of the temple waiting since last night for the deities to come in a ceremonial procession known as ‘pahandi’ was a sight to behold.

The rituals associated with the deities being carried out in ceremonial processions (pahandi) and installed on the chariots took place early as the crowd turned ecstatic.

Puri Sankaracharya Nischilananda Saraswati paid his respects on the chariots and next the Gajapati Maharaj Dibyasingh Deo arrived on a decorated palanquin to sweep the chariot floor with a golden broom symbolizing that the Maharaja is only a servant of the Lord.

The three chariots were pulled beginning from around two pm. Security personnel formed the first ring of those who pulled the chariots.

Lord Balabhadra riding the Taladhwaja chariot moved followed by Devi Subhadra on her chariot Darpadalana and then Lord Jagannath on Nandighosha.

The grand giant wooden chariots moved on the Grand Road leading to Gundicha Temple for the annual nine-day sojourn.

Several dignitaries, including Odisha Governor Ganeshi Lal, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Ministers, Judges and politicians witnessed the car festival.

President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi also greeted people on the occasion.

Over 10,000 security personnel were deployed to maintain vigil. Sea and air surveillance were also in place.