Ratha Yatra is a world-famous chariot or car festival at Puri Jagannath Temple in Odisha, India, every year. According to the traditional Oriya Calendar, people celebrate the festival on the second day of the Shukla Paksha (waxing phase of the moon or bright fortnight) Ashadh month. On the day of the Ratha Yatra, the chariot carries Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra, where devotees pull it to the nearby Gundicha Temple. This festival marks the uniqueness in Odisha culture.
Let us explain the Puri Rath Yatra as per the Brahma Purana.
“Those who are fortunate to see the deities of Srimandira in the Gundicha Temple, the final destination of the procession of the chariots, get the privilege of going to Vishnuloka, the abode of Vishnu or heaven.”
The Katha Upanishad states:
“The body is the chariot, and the soul is the deity installed in the chariot. Wisdom acts as the charioteer to control the mind and thoughts.”
The three deities coming out of the sanctum sanctorum to give darshan (vision) to his devotees are the greatness of Puri Rath Yatra. All people, irrespective of caste, creed, or status, fallen get an opportunity to have darshan of the Lord from close quarters.
Another verse from Poet Salabega states:
“Lord Swaying and moving like a wild elephant arrives at the grand avenue and rides his chariot and destroys in a flash all the sins of his devotees, even if these may be grave or unpardonable.”
At the world-famous Puri Jagannath Temple in Odisha, people worship Lord Krishna as ‘Jagannath’ – ‘master of the universe.’ Balabhadra is the elder brother of Lord Krishna, and Subhadra is his younger sister.
Now that we know what Rath Yatra is all about let us talk about all the festivities of the Rath Yatra.
The construction of the Rathas for the annual festival commences on Akshaya Tritiya day (April – May). The priest conducts initial rituals on Basant Panchami day (January – February). The main rituals associated with the Puri Rath Yatra festival stretch over a month, and numerous rituals, such as Snana Purnima and Anasara, occur during this period. Let us talk about each.
The Snana Yatra or Snana Purnima, or the bathing festival, takes place on the full moon day in the month of Jyestha (May – June). The priests bath the three deities in 108 pitchers of water on this day.
After this elaborate Snana Yatra festival, the priests keep the three deities away from public view. This period is known as ‘Anasara.’ According to beliefs, after the elaborate ceremonial bath, the deities catch the fever, so they do not return to the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.
After fifteen days of ‘anasara’, the idols of the three deities then appear in a new appearance known as ‘Navaya Yauvana Vesha.’ The painters then give the wooden idols of the deities a fresh coat of paint.
The next auspicious ceremony is the famous Ratha Yatra itself. On this day, thousands and lakhs of devotees pull the three huge chariots that carry Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra through the grand road (Bada Danda) to the Gundicha Temple. Gundicha temple is the place where the deities visit their aunt.
Pahandi is the name of the procession in which the three deities come out in procession. When the deities take their seat on the huge chariots, the Gajapati King of Puri, the first servant of Lord Jagannath, is sweeping the chariots.
The deities enter the temple and stay in Gundicha temple for seven days. According to rituals, on the fifth day, Goddess Lakshmi, wife of Lord Jagannath, comes to the temple searching for her Lord. On finding his chariot there, she damages the chariot of Jagannath and returns in anger.
After their week-long stay, the three deities return, and their return journey is known as Bahuda Yatra. During the journey, the chariot of Jagannath stops at the Pardhasani Temple (Mausa Ma temple). The priests offer the Lord their favourite rice cake known as Poda Pitha from his aunt.
After the evening, the deities reach the Puri
and wait outside for the day. On the next day, the deities get new costumes. This new form of the idols is known as ‘Suna Vesa.’ The next day, the deities move into the sanctum sanctorum of the temple, and the festival of Rath Yatra comes to an end.
Rath Yatra is a widely popular festival marking the uniqueness in Odisha culture. This festival is considered quite an elegant festival in more than one way and has become a symbol of identity for Puri and Odisha state. Every year lakhs of devotees worldwide assemble at Puri to become a part of this holy festival. This 11-day long festival has earned a lot of fame in Odisha.
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