Rath Yatra, Jagannath Rath Yatra or the Chariot festival is a grand celebration that is rejoiced by Hindus from all over the world. The phrase ‘rath-yatra’ in itself is a Sanskrit term which when separated means chariot or carriage (Ratha) and pilgrimage (yatra). Rath Yatra is an auspicious event in which a carriage is decorated beautifully, and adorned with delicate designs and colorful clothes. It is celebrated in Puri, Odisha, which is one of the four beautiful pilgrimage sites in India. The city has an alluring history entwined with Lord Jagannath.
The festival is brimmed with historical significance and its essence is relished by the devotees every year. The main temple in Puri, Shree Jagannath Temple is visited by the followers and the presiding deities are taken out. The deities of Lord Jagannath, Goddess Subhadra, Lord Balabhadra along the Sudarshan Chakra are extricated from their precincts and journeyed through the pathway-‘Bada Danda’. The chariots are followed by thousands of devotees and relocated to the other end of Bada Danda. This other end encompasses the beautiful Gundicha Temple which is a significant destination for the annual Rath Yatra. After seven days the deities return to their prior location. This festival shows the true socio-cultural-religious elements of our country and elaborates the tribal and folk traditions. It is celebrated in full scale with colorful aspects and significant social sharing. Three Rath Yatra is notably known. These are the Rath Yatra of Mahesh (West Bengal, India), Dhamrai Jagannath Rath Yatra (Dhamrai, Bangladesh), and the Puri Rath Yatra (Puri, Odisha).
History of Rath Yatra
Rath Yatra is nonetheless a grand and immaculate celebration. There is an engaging history affixed with this legendary festival which makes it the world’s largest chariot festival. The Purans have a descriptive section highlighting the events of this commemoration. The festival is actually linked with many legends. One legend states that after the incremation of Lord Krishna, his heart was submerged in the Dwarka sea. However, King Indrayumma dreamt that the heart and ashes of the Lord should be converted into a statue to be idolized. The architect of God, Sage Vishwakarma appeared and took the task of remodeling the ashes into a statue form, but he had a condition that he wanted to work in seclusion. The King however got very impatient after waiting for 15 days and confronted the Sage. The sage on the other hand felt insulted and abandoned the unfinished statue. The statue, with no hands or feet, made the King regret his decision and he prayed to Lord Brahma (the Creator) to pardon him. After this, Lord Brahma generously gave soul to the statue and the people lovingly adorned it at the Jagannath temple. Another legend believes that Lord Krishna desired to visit the Gundicha Temple, once every year for seven days. So, he took his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra with him and spent a week there with them. This shows that Rath Yatra commemorates the journey of the Lord along with his siblings- Balabhadra and Subhadra. One of the stirring tales also describes the intentions of King Kansa (Lord Krishna’s maternal uncle), who wanted to kill both Krishna and Balabhadra. So to deploy this plan he sent his Chief Akrura to bring both the brothers from Gokul to Mathura. When Krishna and Balabhadra started leaving, their followers, friends, and playmates got overwhelmed with pain and decided to block the carriage in which the brothers were sitting. However, they were allowed to pass when the Lord consoled them and bid them a separating farewell. This reflects the separating pain the devotees faced while bidding farewell and separating from their beloved Lord.
Significance of Rath Yatra
For the devotees the Rath Yatra is not just a journey, it signifies something bigger for them. They believe that Lord reciprocates the love which they shower on him and relieves them from their sufferings. A slight peek or sight of the Lord Jagannath deity, sitting on the carriage is considered very glorious and auspicious. It is known to release the person from the cycle of death and birth and provide them moksha. In fact, the carriage is considered so pure and pious that even touching it or its ropes can give the person penance for ages. The chariot is indeed very magnificent and it is also believed that during the Yatra it becomes a part of Lord himself. There is an Oriya song that mentions how the wheels, ropes, and every part of the carriage become pious and heavenly during the Yatra. This journey is very significant for people who are seeking spirituality, penance, and liberation from earthly attachments.
The initial stages of Rath Yatra celebrations begin with the making of the very beautiful ‘Ratha’ or chariot. The raths are temple shaped and architecturally very remarkable. These marvels are made by around 200 people employed in carpenting, painting, tailoring the decoration clothes, and many other tasks. They work with a strong passion and are given a 58 days timeline to finish the making of chariots.
The people involved in the making have extraordinary knowledge, passed through their hereditary. Thus, their craftsmanship is beyond perfect. The chariot has delicate designs that are traditional in nature. The chariots are carried along the streets and everything is decorated resembling a very large fair. People bathe the deities (Snana Poornima) and seclude them for a period known as ‘Ansara’. After this, the deities are placed on the decorated chariots and the Royal successor of Odisha commences the ‘Chiara Lahara’ ritual. People carry it for around 3 km and relocate the deities to the Gundicha temple. The deities rest there for a week after which the return journey to the Puri temple begins. This journey is popularly known as ‘Bhauda Yatra’. The Puri temple is famous for its delicious ‘parsad’ (mahaprasad or abhada). This delicacy is relished by the devotees along with the other delicious food preparations to celebrate the return of the chariots. Rath Yatra not only remarks on the journey of Lords but also the blessings which the people receive by paying their reverence. Rath Yatra is truly an illustrious event that makes us believe in the true divinity that underlines faith and love towards the Lord.