Rath Yatra Festival, an annual “chariot journey”.
Traditionally located in Puri – in the state of Orissa – is associated with the figure of Sri Jagannatha.
When the festival falls
Rath Yatra takes place on Ashadha Shukla Dwitiya, which is the second day after the new month of Ashadha’s Hindu calendar. According to the Gregorian calendar, this time falls on June – July. In 2018, the festival day fell on July 14.
What is it about?
During the event, three huge – from the front to the rear axle of the wheels is 15 m – richly decorated chariot, each of which contains one of the characters from the Hindu pantheon, leave the indigenous temple Sri Jagannath in Puri and are pulled by the faithful main street of the city to a distance of 3 km Gundicha Temple. Gundicha Temple is called the “summer home” of Lord Jagannatha.
These three famous figures wandering in chariots are Sri Jagannath himself, his brother Balabhadra and Subhadra’s sister. Apart from them, on each of these several-storey chariots are rich decorations such as beautiful carved horses and other valuable attributes of Hinduism. In addition, each of them has at least 100 people who are lucky enough to climb this ride. Each of these magnificent chariots is built every year from scratch and special types of wood are used for this.
The festival day is preceded by many other events related to the mythology of Puran texts. On the eve of the streets are cleaned on the chariot route, especially the area around Gundicha Tempel. Believers also clean up and decorate their homes.
The course of the event
The day of Rath Yatra begins with numerous rituals. At that time, the police block the streets and communication – even with a two-wheeler – is very difficult. Large amounts of prasad are cooked and after feeding the famous siblings, they receive the celebrating pilgrims. Around three in the afternoon the pulling of chariots begins. Throughout the day, city life is focused on these 3 km main road. People of all castes gather, dance, sing “Hare Krishna”, howl a specific “uuu” with the accompanying vibration of the tongue and call “Jay Jagannath!” And “Haribol”. On many faces you can see how high value this annual event has for people.
Eventually, the famous three come to Gundicha Temple around 9 o’clock in the evening, if everything goes well. Believers claim that this is not always the case. Sometimes Jagannath himself does not want to move and then you have to be patient: pullers try again and again time after time.
In Gundicha Temple Jagannath and the team remain for 9 days, of which the first two days the residents and tourists can enjoy the eye and soul of the presence of the great Jagannatha. As white visitors from the West are not allowed into the temples of Sri Jagannatha, the Rath Yatra festival and two days of stoppage are the only chance for them to meet because he himself goes out to the street to the people – as follows from the relationship of a friendly follower named Ekananga.
It is claimed that Lord Jagannath himself lived many thousands of years on earth. The festival is a commemoration of the annual trip of the three to the summer residence of the Gundich Temple at that time. After four days of Jagannath’s spouse’s stay, Lakshmi visits the temple in search of her husband. He promises to return home soon. The history of the festival itself dates back to the tenth century back.
Lord’s return home
After 9 days Bahuda Yatra takes place, when the famous siblings wander back to Jagannath Temple. The procession briefly wraps up Mausi Temple, dedicated to Ardhashini, the home of her aunt’s three siblings on the way.
Having finally arrived “home” Jagannath, the team stand on their chariots for another two days in front of Jay Jagannath Temple to bring a blessing to the believers. Next day after Bahuda Yatra – in 2018 this day fell on July 23 – the Devshayani Ekadashi ceremony takes place. After this ritual Lord Jagannath goes to rest for four months.
The importance of the festival
It is claimed that the one who sees this special day of the Rath Yatra festival of the great Jagannatha on his chariot will certainly attain liberation from the cycle of birth and death, that is, he will achieve liberation, or he will go to heaven. Therefore, the festival attracts followers not only from all India, but also from India scattered around the world. For this reason, Rath Yatra in Puri is called the largest festival in India. Only Khumb Mela raises him, but it happens every few years, the closest one is planned already in 2019.
Ratha Yatra, moreover – at the initiative of the Hare Krishna movement, which is also part of the Sri Jagannath worship – is held at the same time in many large cities around the world, but with a much smaller dimension.