Every year devotees of Puri, witness a breathtaking event namely Puri Ratha yatra which is celebrated in the month of June or July. Thousands of pilgrims visit Puri just to experience this annual festival of Puri in the state of Odisha. It is generally believed that every year Lord Jagannath desires to visit his birthplace Mathura for a few days. To fulfil his wish, this Yatra is conducted each year from Jagannath temple to Gundicha temple, Maasir Bari (Mausi Maa) which is situated 2 km away from the main temple. Most importantly this festival is celebrated on the 2nd day of the Shukla Paksha, Ashadh month according to the Oriya Calendar. A huge procession is arranged for this purpose.
According to Devdutt Pattanaik
Devdutt Pattanaik, who writes on relevance of Mythology, writes in his memoir of the Ratha Yatra that:
“Locally Jagannath is called Kaliya, for its black colour….although modern colour prejudice makes many insist that Krishna is actually blue…”.A unique feature of the temple is that Krishna is worshipped not with his beloved, but with his siblings, his elder brother Balabhadra and his younger sister Subhadra — accompanied by the Sudarshana Chakra.
History of Puri Ratha yatra
The images are malformed, without any hands or feet, and disproportionately large heads. They are not made of metal, but of wood and cloth and resin, and therefore must be replaced from time to time, leading to rituals in which the embodied deities fall sick, die and are brought back to life again.
The story goes that when the image was being carved, the craftsman had asked the patron king not to open the door until the work on the idols was completed. But the impatient annoyed king did open the door of the workshop, as he did not hear sounds of the wood being carved and polished. Thus, the idol was left incomplete.
The chariots of the deities are newly built every year. Jagannath’s chariot is called Nandighosa, the chariot of Balabhadra is known as Taladhwaja and that of Subhadra is called Dwarpadalana or Destroyer of Pride.
Story of Origins
There are many stories associated with their origins. Subhadra wanted to visit Dwarka, her parent’s home, and her brothers took her there on this day. Rath Yatra is a celebration of that visit.
There is another story that Kamsa, the maternal uncle of Lord Krishna, invited Krishna and Balaram to Mathura with the intention of killing them. The evil natured Kamsa sent Akrur with a chariot to Gokul. Lord Krishna and Balaram climbed onto the chariot, departed from Gopis and proceed to Mathura. This day of departure is celebrated as Rath Yatra. Some people believe that this day is celebrated in the honour of Lord Krishna becoming the Sarathi – a driver of Arjuna’s chariot, during the 18 day battle of the Mahabharata.
Every year a grand procession of Rath Yatra is celebrated with these idols. The idols are changed every twelve or nineteen years which is called Nava Kalebar. Then the Ratha Yatra returns back to the main temple. The journey of Puri Jagannath Ratha Yatra is also called Bahuda Jatra. As the procession starts, the Lord Balaram is pulled, and followed by Lord Krishna, goddess Subhadra at last.
Description of idols and chariots
- There are 3 different chariots. Nandighosa is called as Lord Jagannatha’s chariot. It is 45 feet high and 45 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 cloths. It is beautifully decorated with flowers. Most importantly it is guarded by Garuda.
- The flag is named as Trailokyamohini. Around each of the chariots are nine Parsva devatas, carved 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.
- Daruka is the name of the charioteer for Jagannath. Nine deities are Panchamukhi Mahabir , Harihara, Madhusudana , Giri Goverdhan dhari , Pandu Narasingha , Chitamani Krishna ,Narayana , Chatra Bhanga Rabana, Rama and Hanuman. The total number of wheels on Lord Jagannath’s chariot are 16, Lord Balabhadra’s chariot is 14 and Subhadra’s chariot is 12.
- The Chariot of Balabhadra named as Taladhwaja.It is guarded by Basudev. Name of the charioteer is Matali. Its height is 43 feet 3 inch. It’s wrapped in red, blue, green colour cloths. The horses are Tribeca, Ghora, Dirghasharma, Swarnanava. Most importantly the chariot of Subhadra is named as Darpadalana.593 wooden pieces are used for this structure. Its height is 42 feet 3 inch. It’s wrapped in red, black coloured cloths. It is guarded by Jayadurga. Name of the charioteer is Arjuna. Presiding nine deities are Chandi, Chamunda, Ugratara, Banadurga, Shulidurga, Varahi, Shyamakali, Mangala, Vimala. The temple food or mahaprasad, known locally as abhada, is pretty famous too.
- Large pots of food are placed on top of each other and cooked with wood fire and steam, starting from the top layer. Served on a banana leaf and eaten sitting on the floor, the meal consists of khichdi, dal, vegetables, and a sweet ending that is most cherished. During the time festival, the devotees of all over the world go to puri with the help of pulling the chariots using the ropes. Jagannath temple is accessible only by Hindus but on the day of the Ratha Yatra, people of different faiths can visit the temple.
- The preparation of the chariots starts on the day of Akshay Tritiya. During the return journey, the Bahuda Yatra makes a halt at the Mausi Maa Temple. Here the idols are served Poda Pitha, a sweet pancake. It is believed that this pancake is a poor man’s food and the Lord is very fond of it.
The colourful spectacular procession moves forward with the sound of devotional songs played on tambourines, trumpets or drums. Therefore the streets of Puri are crowded with devotees who come just to get a glimpse of their Lords. It is believed that a person who devotedly participates in this Puri Ratha Yatra will be freed from the cycle of birth and death. This festival is also known as ‘Ghosa Yatra’, ‘Dasavatara Yatra’, ‘Navadina Yatra’ or ‘Gundicha Yatra’. This festival is a symbol of unity and integrity, thus celebrated with pomp and glory.