Rath Yatra - The Divine Journey
It won't be wrong to call this 'Festival of Chariot' the grandest festival to take place in India. Held at Puri every year in the month of July, it is one of the most important and awaited festival of Hindus. Full of colors and spectacle, the nine day festival never fails to mesmerize all who witness it. During the festival, Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra, who are the main deities of the Jagannatha Temple, are taken out on three gigantic chariots to Gundicha Mandir. This probably the only time when the main idols of deities are taken out of temple anywhere in India. Since the time the festival has started, it has amused not only Indians but foreigners as well. It is said that when Britishers first observed Rath Yatra, they were so intrigued by its atmosphere and energy, that they termed it 'Juggernaut'. Even today, people from all over the world, both Hindus and Non-Hindus, visit Puri to be one among the millions standing on the sidelines and behold the magnificent event.
Significance of Rath Yatra
'Rath' means chariot and 'Yatra' means procession or travel. There are many legends related as to why Rath Yatra is celebrated. Some say that Lord Jagannatha desired that he wants to visit his birthplace, Gundicha Ghar, once every year. Another story goes that, Lord Jagannatha once took his sister, Goddess Subhadra to show the beauty of Dwarka in a chariot, and this day is celebrated as Rath Yatra. There is one more legend according to which, Lord Krishna and his brother Lord Balabhadra went to Mathura on a chariot, accepting the invitation of his Uncle Kamsa. It is said that, one who sees the deities in the chariot will attain salvation.
Celebrations of Rath Yatra
The energy and enthusiasm with which Rath Yatra is celebrated is
simply outstanding. It all starts when the idols of the three deities,
Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra, are taken out
in a procession. Listen to the sudden increase in the prayer chants of
the people as the idols are brought to the three magnificent chariots
waiting outside the temple. The chariots themselves are one of the
main attractions of the festival. Humongous in size, the chariots are
decorated extravagantly. Chariot carrying Lord Jagannatha is called
Nandighosh Rath, chariot carrying Lord Balabhadra is called Taladvaja
Rath, and chariot carrying Goddess Subhadra is named Padmadhvaja Rath.
The chariots are not similar in build either. The number of wheels and
the size of the chariots differ.
After seating all the idols, which itself takes hours, the traditional king sweeps the chariot with a golden broom. With this starts the pulling of the chariots by thousands of devotees. The chariots are taken to Gundicha Mandir which is located 3 km from Jagannatha Temple. All along the way, the devotees stand wherever they can find space, to get a glimpse of the deities. The atmosphere is simply magical and will take you deep into the feeling of devotion. After 8 days, the images of the deities are taken back to Jagannatha Temple from Gundicha Mandir in the same way they were brought here.
Commuting to Puri during the festival time is not easy. Book yourself a ticket way in advance as crowd coming into the city is huge. Same is the case with accommodation as well. Most of the hotels would be full during the season. So it is better to make arrangements as early as possible.
Rath Yatra is one of the few festivals that beckon devotees from across the continents. The excitement and enthusiasm of the event is something that has to be witnessed to be felt completely. So become a part of this unique celebrations that will definitely be the most enthralling experience of your life.