Odisha, the cultural land of incredible India, has created a special place thanks to its ancient tradition, heritage, architecture, and noteworthy temples. There is another thing in Odisha that represents the state at the World level, and that is Puri Jagannath temple. There are several religious journeys are done throughout the year in India, in which thousands of devotees visit different pilgrimage places. But Odisha organizes such a special procession every year at Puri, in which God himself goes on a journey, and it is known as the Rath Yatra or Chariot festival of Lord Jagannath. Every year from different parts of the country, millions of people congregate at Puri to enjoy Rath Jatra.
So, are you interested to know about the biggest Chariot festival of Odisha? Here, in this article, let’s discuss the significance and mystery of Puri Rath Yatra.
The Glorious Rath Yatra of Odisha
Puri Rath Yatra or Rath Jatra or Chariot festival of Lord Jagannath is undoubtedly one of the biggest and the most popular festivals of Odisha. It is the oldest and the most famous Rath Yatra taking place in India and the world. On this day, Lord Jagannath with his siblings, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra make a journey to his aunt’s house (Mausi Maa temple/Gundicha temple). Every year in June or July, Rath Jatra is celebrated on the second day of the Shukla Paksha, Ashadh month, as per the traditional Odia calendar. During this time, people consider visiting the temple to be the most auspicious.
This grand festival lasts for 9 days, and the commencement of the festival is Rath Yatra. On the 9th day, the holy trinity return to the Shree Mandir, and this is called Bahuda Yatra. On the next day of Bahuda Yatra, the 3 deities are adorned with gold ornaments, and this auspicious day is known as Sunabesha.
Some Amazing Moments on the Day of Rath Yatra
Newly constructed and nicely decorated three gigantic chariots stand on the Bada Danda, the Grand Avenue. Covered with bright canopies, the huge chariots are lined across the wide avenue right in front of the majestic temple close to its eastern entrance, also known as the Sinha Dwara or the Lion’s Gate. Now, the deities come from the temple premises to the world outside with an elaborate royal ritual called Pahandi bije. In this process, the deities are going forward in a step-by-step movement to the accompaniment of several devotees beating the ghanta, kahali, and telingi baja.
Another interesting and elaborate ritual of Rath Jatra is Chhera Pahanra. On the day of Rath Yatra, the king of Puri, Gajapati Divya Singha Deva, comes on the grand avenue in a small procession led by a caparisoned elephant. After offering his prayers to the deities on the chariot, he then cleans the platforms with a golden broom, sprinkling flowers, and fragrant water. The ritual goes back several hundred years and is a symbol of temporal subjugation to the spiritual. The emperors of Orissa in the 12th century declared themselves to be the servant of Lord Jagannath and ruled the land as His representative. The ritual is also a public demonstration of the unique philosophy of integration and unity symbolized by Lord Jagannath.
After cleansing the chariots, the king returns to his palace. Then brown, black and white wooden horses are fixed to three chariots. 250 feet long thick ropes made of coconut fiber are tied to the individual chariots. Chariot pulling is the final ritual of the Chariot festival. Thousands of devotees who patiently wait the whole day for this iconic moment pull the chariots with a sense of fulfillment and joy. The chariot of Lord Balabhadra is pulled first, followed by that of goddess Subhadra. At last, the chariot of Lord Jagannath is pulled for which devotees wait eagerly.
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Sanctity and Significance of Rath Jatra
Puri Rath Yatra has variety of names such as Gundicha Yatra, Ghosa Yatra, Navadina Yatra, Dasavatara Yatra. Rath Jatra is the only festival in India where God himself comes out of the temple premises to meet the devotees. During Rath Yatra, irrespective of religion, caste, and creed, people from different parts of the country gather at Puri to get a glimpse of Lord Jagannath. Though many think it’s a nine-day festival that starts with the journey of the Holy Trinity to their aunt’s temple and culminates with the return Journey after eight days. But, in reality, this festival stretches from the day of Akshaya Tritiya and culminates with the return journey of the deities to the Shree Mandir.
Rath Yatra is one of the grandest festivals for the people of Odisha. Devotees consider a glimpse of Lord Jagannatha on the chariot to be very auspicious. Saints, poets, and scriptures have repeatedly glorified the sanctity of this Rath Jatra. The sanctity of this festival is such that even a touch of the chariot or even the ropes with which these are drawn is considered enough to confer the results of several pious deeds or penance for ages.
Beautiful and gigantic chariots are the special attraction of Puri Rath Yatra. Three different chariots are made for Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, and Goddess Subhadra. On the day of Basant Panchami, the wood for chariots is selected, and the construction of chariots starts from the days of Akshay Tritiya. Every year the chariots of the three deities are newly constructed with the wood of specified trees like phassi, dhausa, etc. The carpenters called Maharana do the construction of these chariots, which is their hereditary right for ages. The chariot construction work is carried out by seven groups of carpenters and artisans as per tradition and lineage. After the construction, the chariots are decorated with different color clothes.
Lord Jagannath’s chariot is known as Nandighosh. The height of this chariot is 45 feet. It has 16 wheels, each of 7-foot diameter, and is covered with red and yellow clothes. There is a total number of 832 wooden pieces are used to build this chariot.
The name of Lord Balabhadra’s chariot is Taladhwaja. Its height is 44 feet. It has 14 wheels, each of 7-foot diameter. Red and blue cloth is used in this chariot. A total of 763 pieces of wood are used in this chariot.
The Chariot of Subhadra, known as Darpadalana or Debadalana, is 43 feet high with 12 wheels, each of 7-foot diameter. This chariot is adorned with a covering of red and black cloth. A total of 593 pieces of wood are used in this chariot.
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Top Experiences during Rath Yatra
Akshay Tritiya is a Hindu and Jain festival, which falls on the third tithi of Shukla Paksha, Vaisakha month. It is also a celebration of the birth of Sage Parashuram. It is a belief that any venture started on this auspicious day would be successful. From this day, the new agricultural season starts, and farmers start ploughing their fields. On this day, the construction of three chariots for Lord Jagannath and his siblings starts.
Another important ritual of Rath Yatra is Chandan Yatra. It starts from the day of Akshay Tritiya and lasts for three weeks. In this festival, the representative images of the presiding deities such as Lord Madana Mohan, Goddess Bhudevi (Saraswati), Goddess Shreedevi (Lakshmi), Lord Krishna, Lord Balaram, and the Pancha Pandavas like Lord Lokanatha, Lord Markandeswara, Lord Kapalamochana, Lord Nilakantheswara, and Jameswara undertake leisurely boat ride at the Narendra Water Tank to beat the summer heat.
Deba Snana Purnima
Chandan Yatra culminates in Deba Snana Purnima or Snana Yatra, which falls on the full moon day of the month of Jyestha. In this festival, the holy deities are taken out in a procession from the temple premises and placed on an elevated platform. Then each idol is bathed in 108 pitchers of ritually purified water drawn from a specific well inside the temple premises accompanied by chants and hymns. From that day the deities remain in symbolic and ritual convalescence for about two weeks. During this period, ordinary devotees can’t see the deities.
The stepping out of the deities from the temple precincts marks the formal ending of the period of sickness. The deities are given a fresh coat of paint, and finally, as per the traditions for preparing divine icons, the eyes are painted in a ritual called Netrostava. After recovering from sickness, the deities are now available for reappearance to the public. It is known as the Naba Joubana Darshana, a celebration of the renewal of youth.
Bahuda Yatra means the return journey of Lord Jagannath and his siblings to Shree Mandir. On the 9th day of Rath Yatra, the three deities leave their aunt’s house (Gundicha Temple) and return to the temple premises in a grand procession. During Bahuda Yatra, the chariot of Lord Jagannath stops at Mausi Maa temple, and the deity is offered his favorite Poda Pitha. Millions of people gather at Puri to enjoy this iconic moment.
Another important segment of Rath Yatra is Sunabesha. After returning from the Gundicha Temple, the three deities are attired with gold ornaments. Three deities, on their chariots, are adorned with golden attire with hands, arms, and crown made of solid gold. Then the priest offers them sweet drinks on huge cylindrical earthen pots reaching up to their lips. They are then taken down from the chariots in a ritual descent to enter the temple. During this festival, thousands of people gather at Puri to see Lord Jagannath in gorgeous golden attire.
Celebration of Rath Yatra in different Places other than Puri
Millions of devotees of Lord Jagannath are there in different parts of the world. So, people celebrate the Chariot festival at different places other than Puri. Though Puri Rath Yatra is the biggest one, it also continues in other places of Odisha. After Puri, Rath Jatra is celebrated in Bapipada with equal greatness. So, Baripada is also famous as Dwitiya Shrikshetra. The Baripada Rath Jatra is famous for its unique tradition in which only women pull the chariot of Goddess Subhadra. In Bhubaneswar, ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) also celebrate Rath Yatra with great enthusiast. Other than Odisha, Kolkata also lavishly celebrates the Chariot festival.
Most interestingly, this festival now happens on an annual basis in places all over the world in over 108 cities. The list of cities includes Moscow, New York, Houston, Atlanta, London, Rome, Mumbai, Karachi, Berlin, Heidelberg, Cologne, Florence, Wroclaw, Sydney, Perth, Kampala, Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Mexico City, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver, Santiago, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and so on. Ratha Yatra in Dhamrai, Bangladesh, is one of the most important festivals of Bangladesh.
Rath Yatra of Odisha is perhaps the grandest festival on earth. Everything is on the scale that is worthy of the great Lord. Full of spectacle, drama, and color, the festival is a typical Indian fair of immense proportion. It is also the living embodiment of the synthesis of tribal, folk, and autochthonous with classical, elaborately formal, and refined elements of the socio-cultural-religious ethos of Indian civilization. Moreover, this iconic Chariot festival makes Odisha famous at the world level.
I hope this blog will help you to know the significance, history, and several rituals of the grandest Chariot festival of Odisha. If you find this blog informative and interesting, then don’t forget to share your experience by commenting below.