Almost all famous Shiva shrines in the state were packed on Monday, as devotees braved the scorching heat and made serpentine queues in front of temples to seek the blessings of the god on Mahashivratri.
Policemen had a trying time on the festive day taming the sea of pilgrims at popular temples like Lingaraj in Bhubaneswar, Loknath in Puri, Akhandalamani in Bhadrak, Kapilas in Dhenkanal, Huma in Sambalpur and Gupteswar in Koraput.
Cops in the state capital were jittery following the alleged murderous attack on a priest of Lingaraj temple on Sunday. The injured priest, Bhagaban Samartha, was scheduled to take the holy mahadeep atop the shrine on Mahashivratri night.
There were apprehensions of a backlash on the day of festival but police officials heaved a sigh of relief as the rituals went by smoothly since morning. “Devotees did not face any problem while taking a glimpse of the Shiva linga. They were allowed to go in queue to prevent stampede. The festival was incident-free,” a police officer said.
While gun-totting policemen stood guard to prevent any untoward incident, temple authorities were glued to giant TV screens to monitor the goings-on inside and outside the temple through CCTV footage. “We were ready to meet any exigency. Priests of different Nijogs cooperated with us for the timely solemnization of the traditional practices. We had deployed four private security guards at the entrance point to prevent the entry of non-Hindus into the shrine,” temple’s executive officer Abanikant Pattnaik said.
Sources said the rituals of Lingaraj were delayed for nearly 20 minutes in the morning following the entry of a pilgrim into the sanctum sanctorum. “There was mild disruption. Later, the rituals went on smoothly,” Pattnaik said.
Several volunteers and Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) authorities sprinkled water on devotees who were standing under the blazing sun. Sources said the day temperature touched nearly 34 degree Celsius in Bhubaneswar.
The district administrations of Bhadrak and Dhenkanal also ensured a hassle-free Mahashivratri celebrations at the most sought after temples, Akhandalmani and Kapilas. Till reports last came in, rituals were going on smoothly at both places.
A large number of devotees from different parts of the state and neighbouring Andhra Pradesh thronged the historic Gokarneshwar temple, situated atop Mahendragiri hill in Gajapati district. Locals, however, said the crowd on Mahendragiri hill this year was thin. “It might be because of the panchayat elections that concluded on Sunday,” said a functionary of Mahendragiri Surakhya Parishad.
Meanwhile, tour and travel professionals took a dig at the state tourism department for failing to tap the Mahashivratri festivity. “Like Rath Yatra, the Mahashivratri can also attract a good number of tourists to the state. However, the tourism department does not float tour packages for visitors,” a tour operator said. “The government should focus on wooing tourists to the Shiva temples located amid natural treasure-troves like Gupteswar in Koraput, Harishankar in Balangir and Beleswar in Puri,” he added.
Famous temples apart, there are a number of shrines that have remained out of bounds for tourists due to poor promotion. Narendrapur village in Bhadrak district is dotted by more than 1,000 Shiva lingas. Bhusandeswar in Balasore district is home to a 12-feet high Shiva linga, touted as the tallest linga in Asia. A Shiva shrine at Beleswar is just a stone’s throw from the Bay of Bengal in Puri district.
“Anybody would be tempted to visit these places. However, the footfall of tourists is pretty discouraging due to poor marketing,” a hotelier said. “We have so far not thought of floating tour packages during Mahashivratri, but we may do it in the future. But we arrange vehicles for our guests if they want to visit any temple,” a tourism official said.