Ratha Yatra (Oriya: ରଥଯାତ୍ରା or Ratha Jatra or Chariot Festival) is a Hindu festival associated with Lord Jagannath held at Puri in the state of Odisha, India. It is the oldest Rath Yatra taking place in Indian and the World, dating back to 10 – 11 century and its descriptions can be found in Brahma Purana, Padma Purana, and Skanda Purana and Kapila Samhita.
This annual festival is celebrated on Ashadha Shukla Paksha Dwitiya (second day in bright fortnight of Ashadha month).
The festival commemorates Jagannath’s annual visit to Gundicha Temple via Mausi Maa Temple (aunt’s home) near Balagandi Chaka, Puri.
Rath Yatra or Chariot festival, one of the much-awaited Hindu festivals, is celebrated every year on the 2nd day of the Shukla Paksha (waxing cycle of the moon) in the month of Asadh, the 3rd month according to the lunar calendar of India. The foremost epicentre for this festival is the Jagannath Puri temple, one of the four major Hindu shrines, which is situated in the state of Odisha. Rath Yatra Puri has always been popular among tourists due to its religious connotation. They visit Puri every year and take part in the celebrations with full enthusiasm.
The festival honours the Lord Jagannath’s visit along with his siblings to the temple of Queen Gundicha. The caravan of Lord Jagannath, on the way, stops at their maternal aunt’s place – mausima temple – to take the meal of sweet pancakes, Jagannath’s favorite dish as believed. During his journey, Lord Jagannath is accompanied also by the celestial wheel called Sudarshan Chakra.
Jagannath Puri temple is called ‘Yamanika Tirtha’ where, according to the Hindu beliefs, the power of ‘Yama’, the god of death has been nullified in Puri due to the presence of Lord Jagannath, popularly known as Lord Krishna, and his siblings – lord Balbhadra and deity Shubhadra – in the Jagannath Puri temple. As many as three new splendid chariots are created for the Puri Yatra (the journey) of the Gods – Lord Jagannath and his siblings – every year. The carpenters, having rights for this job by heredity, follow century old styles, written in the holy Hindu text, for building and decorating the chariots.
Then comes the graceful day of Yatra, when these 45-feet high idols are pulled by millions of devotees came here from all over the world. The act of pulling the Rath by the ropes during Rath Yatra Puri is believed to be an extremely religious act, the belief which attracts millions of tourists from all over the world.
The three chariots of Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagannatha are newly constructed every year with wood of specified trees like phassi, dhausa, etc. They are customarily brought from the ex-princely state of Dasapalla by a specialist team of carpenters who have hereditary rights and privileges for the same. The logs are traditionally set afloat as rafts in the river Mahanadi. These are collected near Puri and then transported by road.
The three chariots are decorated as per the unique scheme prescribed and followed for centuries stand on the Bada Danda, the Grand Avenue. Covered with bright canopies made of stripes of red cloth and combined with those of black, yellow and blue colours, the huge chariots are lined across the wide avenue in front of the majestic temple close to its eastern entrance, which is also known as the Sinhadwara or the Lion’s Gate.
Lord Jagannatha’s chariot is called Nandighosa. It is forty-five feet high and forty-five feet square at the wheel level. It has sixteen wheels, each of seven-foot diameter, and is decked with a cover made of red and yellow cloth. Lord Jagannatha is identified with Krushna, who is also known as Pitambara, the one attired in golden yellow robes and hence the distinguishing yellow stripes on the canopy of this chariot.
The chariot of Lord Balarama, called the Taladhwaja, is the one with the Palm Tree on its flag. It has fourteen wheels, each of seven-foot diameter and is covered with red and blue cloth. Its height is forty-four feet.
The chariot of Subhadra, known as Dwarpadalana, literally “trampler of pride,” is forty-three feet high with twelve wheels, each of seven-foot diameter. This chariot is decked with a covering of red and black cloth – black being traditionally associated with Shakti and the Mother Goddess.
Dwarpadalana or Padmadhwaja Rath
Around each of the chariots are nine Parsva devatas, painted wooden images representing different deities on the chariots’ sides. Each of the chariots is attached to four horses. These are of different colours – dark ones for Balarama, white ones for Jagannatha, and red ones for Subhadra. Each chariot has a charioteer called Sarathi. The three charioteers attached to the chariots of Jagannatha, Balarama and Subhadra respectively are Daruka, Matali and Arjuna.
The Ratha Yatra of 2014
The Ratha yatra in Puri of 2014 started on 29 June amid great fanfare and religious fervor with tight security arranged by the authorities. The Indian Prime minister Mr Narendra Modi greeting the people on the occasion of the Ratha Yatra tweeted “My warm greetings to the people on the occasion of the rath yatras that would be held across India today. We bow to Lord Jagannath on this auspicious day. Today once again He sets out on His chariot, giving blessings to the people,”. More than a million devotees are expected to throng Puri on the occasion for the festival that is watched by millions on television. The Bahuda yatra or the return journey of Jagannath from Gundicha temple occurred on 7 July and was attended by more than 400,000 devotees.
The East Indian state of Orissa bears a large list of religions, ancient temples, local shrines, sacred places and tribes. The state witnesses numerous fairs and festivals held on its land, in the entire year. The holy land of the state marks the surfacing of three different religions, which is the prime reason behind people enjoying the festivities round the year in Orissa.
The state is considered as the land of diversity in cultures and traditions, is also a land of celebrations. The state celebrates every occasion as Orissa festivals, in its full. There is one thing common among religion, folklores, tradition, agriculture and seasonal variations and ethnic dance forms. All of these are celebrated in the state of religiosity. Every month comes with one or more festival to be celebrated in Orissa with performing some special ritual attached to each of it. People from home grounds and visitors take part in the celebrations with full of zeal.
The state celebrates some major festivals like Durga Puja and Kali Puja, which signifies the worship of Shakti (Power), in the months of September and October in a big way. However, Orissa’s religious capital Puri, the abode of Lord Jagannath, alone celebrates a total of 62 festivals all dedicated to Lord Jagannath, popularly known as Lord Krishna, every year. This set of fairs & festivals of Puri includes Car Festival in Puri, Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath, Pushyavisheka, Dola Yatra (Holi Festival), Chandan Yatra, Snana Yatra and Anasara as major celebrations. Moreover, Konark Dance Festival and Puri Beach Festival along with some tribal festivals are other festive attractions of the state.
The 12th century Jagannath Puri temple, situated in Puri, is the foremost epicenter for the festival of the Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra. The Puri festivals have always been popular among tourists due to their religious connotation.
The Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra festival in Puri or Chariot festival, one of the much-awaited Hindu festivals, honors the Lord Jagannath’s visit along with his siblings – Lord Balbhadra and Deity Shubhadra – to the temple of Queen Gundicha. As many as three new splendid chariots are created for the elegant Rath Yatra Puri (the journey) of the Gods – Lord Jagannath and his siblings – every year.