The Divine Experience at Rath Yatra in Puri

The Indian mythology is the backbone of the Indian culture. The Indian mythology consists of numerous tales and narratives related to Hinduism in the ancient Sanskrit literature such as the Puranas, Vedas and epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana and the Bhagwat Gita.  Several different stories from the Indian Mythology have been passed on through generation either in the form of stories told by Grandparents or even in scriptures that have been preserved for centuries. The Hindus attribute almost all of their festivals to Gods and Demi gods. The Rath Yatra in Puri, Orissa is one such festival that is celebrated usually in the month of June or July.

This year the most awaited festival of Orissa commences on Saturday, 6th July.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Why is Rath Yatra Celebrated?

The Rath Yatra Festival or the Festival of Chariots at Puri is a major festival dedicated to Lord Jagannath better known as Lord Krishna who is considered to be the Master of the Universe and his siblings Lord Balabhadra, elder brother and Godess Subhadra, younger sister of Lord Krishna. According to a popular folklore the rath yatra story says, Lord Jagannath who resides in the temple town of Puri in Orissa desires to visit his birthplace in Mathura once a year along with his siblings. The journey from the Jagannath Temple in Puri to the Gundicha Devi Temple in Mathura on a bedecked chariot is the essence of the Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra or the Gundicha Jatra.

Rath Yatra Procession

Every year, the three deities in the form of wooden idols are taken from the Jagannath Temple to the Gundicha Temple in elaborate chariots and the resonating sound of the conches and chants. Before the day of the Yatra, the idols of the 3 deities are given a bath with 108 pitchers of water (Snana Pornima) and are kept in isolation till the day of event (Ansara)  as they are believed to be ill. On the day of the Yatra, the people of Puri flock around the temple in large numbers, waiting for the royal heir of Orissa to perform the holy ritual of ‘Chhera Pahara’.

During this ritual, the Kings brings out the deities from the temple and places them in the chariot that he has himself sweeped with a broom that has a gold handle and decorated with flowers.  After that, the King sweeps the ground around the Chariot and sprinkles sandalwood on it. The Chhera Pahara ritual signifies that everyone is equal in the eyes of God. Another significance of Rath Yatra is that on this day, people belonging to all faiths, religions and classes are allowed to visit the temple unlike on any other day. The deities stay at the Gundicha Temple, which is their aunt’s place for the next nine days after which they return home and the return journey is known as the ‘Bahuda Yatra’.

Image Source: Wikipedia

The Chariots of Ratha Yatra Festival

The Chariots are a main attraction at the Jagannath Rath Yatra. The preparations for this day begin way in advance. On the day of Akshay Tritiya, the devotees and volunteers start constructing and decorating the Charots or the ‘Raths’. The three main chariots at the Rath Yatra festival are pulled manually by 50- metre long ropes. People rush to help in pulling the ropes of the Chariot as it is believed that pulling these ropes helps you add stock to your box of good deeds and also is a way for penance. The chariot of Lord Jagannath referred to as the ‘Nandighosa’ is 45.6 feet high and comprises 18 wheels, Lord Balabhadra’s chariot called ‘Taladhvaja’ is 45 feet high with 16 wheels. The chariot of Godess Subhadra is 44.6 feet high with 14 wheels and is known as Devadalana.  These chariots are skilfully decorated by artists using beautiful motifs, designs and paints. The enthusiasm for the Yatra begins here.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

At first, the Chariot of Lord Balaram’s is pulled out, then Goddess Subhadra’s followed by Lord Jagannath’s. The distance from between the two temples is only about 3 km, but the large crowd of enthusiastic devotees and tourists dancing to the rising sound of the conch shells, chants and the synchronised beats of the drums extend the duration of the journey by a couple hours. Once reached, the devotees are allowed to take Darshan for the next nine days.

On the way back to the Jagannath Temple in Puri, the Bahuda Yatra procession halts at the Mausi Maa Temple where the deities are served ‘Poda Pitha’ - a sweet pancake.  It is a said that this poor man’s food is a favourite of Lord Jagannath.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Puri Rath Yatra is one of the oldest and the grandest festival that is celebrated annually in India. It has origins way back in time and finds mentions in the Hindu Puranas, the Skanda Puran, Brahma Puran and Padma Puran. Untill a few years back, devotees would throw themselves in front of the wheels of theChariot of Lord Jagannath as they believed that this would bring them salvation. Fortunately, this practice has now stopped.

The Rath Yatra or the chariot festival is a significant event in India witnessed by thousands and thousands of pilgrims and tourists who visit Puri from all across the globe to experience this festival that is high on vivid hues of joy, enthusiasm, energy and of course faith.  Add it to your bucket list without any further delay.

While you are in Puri here are 25 amazing places to visit in Orissa.

You may also be interested in reading about offbeat things to do in religious cities of India

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