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Rath Yatra is a Hindu festival associated with Lord Jagannath and held at Puri, Odisha. It is the ancient Ratha Yatra that takes place in India and the world. The descriptions of this festival can be found in Brahma Purana (first Maha-Purana), Padma Purana (named after lotus in which the creator god Brahma appeared), Skanda Purana (named after Lord Shiva and Devi Parvathy’s son, an elaborate version), and Kapila Samhita (describes Lord Shiva, Durga, Surya and Vishnu shrines in Odisha). These Upapuranas are a genre of Hindu religious texts.
The annual festival of Ratha Yatra is celebrated on Ashada Shukla Paksha Dwitiya (in the bright fortnight of Ashada month) and happens for 15 days. This year, it will begin on 23rd June.
The festival celebrates the Lord Jagannath’s annual visit to Gundicha Temple via his Mausi Maa Temple (maternal aunt’s) near Puri.
How is the Rath Yatra celebrated?
The deities Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Balabhadra and younger sister Devi Subhadra along with the Lord Sudarshana are taken out of the Lord Jagannath temple and placed inside the chariots, which stand in front of the temple. The deities come in ‘Pahandi’ and board their chariots. After that, the Gajapati Maharaja (the king of Puri and first servitor of lords) does the holy cleaning of chariots through a gold broom, and this process is called ‘Chhera Pahanra.’ Then the devotees pull the chariots up to the Gundicha Temple (also known as the birthplace of the lords). The lords stay at this temple for seven days.
As described in the Puranas, getting a glimpse of the four deities during the evening brings an incessant bliss to a devotee.
After that, the return journey of chariots to the Lord Jagannath temple is performed, and it is known as Bahuda Yatra. While the chariots come back, a special type of cake (Poda Pitha) is offered to the deities at Mausi Maa Temple.
On the 12th day of the bright moon phase(Ashada Shukla Dwadashi), a special type of sweet drink with cheese, milk, sugar and spices (Adhara Pana) is offered to the deities on the chariots.
The last phase of the Rath Yatra is known as Niladri Bije on the 13th day of the bright fortnight of Ashada, where the ceremony of four deities returning to the bejewelled platform.
During the annual event, the devotees (Hindus, non-Hindus and foreigners) from all over the world throng to Puri with a holy desire to pull the lord’s chariots. The chariots are approximately 45 feet high and pulled by thousands of pilgrims who turn up for the event.
Did you know?
Lord Jagannath went to Gundicha temple along with his siblings leaving his consort Goddess “Lakshmi” alone. Consequently, delay in their return worried her and felt that she was ignored. And Goddess Lakshmi stopped Lord Jagannath entering the temple after their arrival.
Finally, she got convinced with Lord’s explanation and pleadings and allowed him into the temple. It indicates that even God has marital problems due to misconceptions and misunderstanding like an ordinary guy. This story gives a clear message that there should not be a misunderstanding between a wife and husband. This entire episode logically implies our routine life.
The three chariots are newly constructed every year through the wood of some specific trees, such as Phassi, Dhausa and decorated as per a unique scheme followed for centuries. Lord Jagannatha’s chariot is called Nandighosha. Lord Jagannath is identified with Krishna, who is also known as Pitambara (the one who wears golden-yellow robes). Hence, the chariot canopy is lined with yellow stripes.
The chariot of Lord Balabhadra is known as Taladhwaja. It has a palm tree on its flag.
The chariot of Devi Subhadra is known as Devadalana or Padmadhwaja.
The chariots are placed in the front of the majestic temple close to its eastern entrance, also known as Sinhadwara or Lion’s Gate.