The Grand Rath Yatra Celebrations•
Posted on July 04 2022
The Rath Yatra is a popular annual nine-day Hindu festival organized in Puri, a city in the north-eastern state of Odisha. The yatra is witnessed by a large crowd of devotees every year and is represented as the festival of chariots. The Rath Yatra in Puri is the oldest among all the rath yatras organised in other parts of the country and has multiple references in Brahma Purana, Skanda Purana, Padma Purana and Kapila Samhita.
The festival is also called as Ghosh Jatra and is associated with Lord Jagannath and His siblings Balbhadra and Subhadra. Each of the deities has a chariot of His/Her own. The celebration takes place on the second day of the waxing cycle of the moon in the Ashadha month. This is officially the third month of the Odia calendar. It is celebrated to mark the return of the deities to their hometown Vrindavan.
The main entrance of the Jagannath shrine is shut a week before the festival. It is said that this is because the lord and His siblings are said to have high fever after His annual bath or playing under the sun with 108 pitchers of water. They are said to be resting during the shut period.
Size and Name of the Chariots
Each of the three chariots has a name associated with it and different heights and construction styles. However, all the chariots have a massive size and require the effort of several hundreds of chariots to pull them for the procession. A new chariot is built every year although the style and size remain the same. All the chariots are drawn by four horses.
The chariot of Lord Jaganath also called as the Nandighosha is the tallest of the three chariots with a height of more than 44 feet. This rath is constructed with 832 wood pieces and has yellow and red coloured canopies and has 16 wheels. The horses are white in colour.
The chariot owned by Lord Balbhadra is named Taladhwaja and is drawn by four black horses. The chariot is a little more than 43 feet tall. The rath is constructed with 763 pieces of wood and has canopies in shades of bluish green and red. It has 14 wheels.
The chariot belonging to Goddess Subhadra is known as Darapadalana and is drawn by red horses. The rath is slightly more than 42 feet tall and has 12 wheels. The canopies are designed in black and red colours.
The construction of all three chariots begins on the auspicious day of Akshay Tritiya. The construction takes place opposite the main office of the shrine and before the palace of the erstwhile ruler of Puri.
Story Behind the Rath Yatra
The Rath Yatra marks the travel of the Lord to His maternal aunt’s residence with His siblings after refreshing Himself during the resting period. This is celebrated as the Rath Yatra. They set out in their respective chariots and proceed to the Gundicha Temple. After this, they wait for a Muslim devotee near the Bhakta Slebega crematorium. It is believed that the devotee meets the deities here to pay his respects to them.
After blessing the devotees proceed to the Mausi Maa Temple that is supposed to be the residing abode of the deities. They are treated to poda pitha here and stay with their aunt for a week. After this, they return to their home. This return journey is referred to as Bahuda Yatra.
Food Preparation During Rath Yatra
Like with any Hindu festival, food plays an in important role during the Rath Yatra festival as well. Food is cooked on a large scale a huge wood fire in a huge pressure cooker and then steamed. Several traditional food like khichdi, dal, vegetables and sweets are prepared and served on a banana leaf to devotees who have gathered to witness the procession. Over the years, more food like rotis, namkeen, buttermilk, lassi and jal jeera are also prepared and served in stainless steel plates.
Before the commencement of the Rath Yatra, all the three idols are given a holy bath with 108 buckets of water. This ritual is called Snana Purnima. The path on which the chariots travel is cleaned using a golden broom and water. This path is then marked with sandalwood. This cleaning action is said to signify that no one is above the Almighty and all are equal in the eyes of the lord.
The chariots are pulled by scores of devotees who chant various mantras of the lord throughout the procession. This is accompanied by the sounds of conches, mridangams and cymbals. The chariots do not move right away as soon as the procession is initiated although the devotees take a lot of effors. They start moving only when the singing of the Dahuka Boli is done after a couple of hours of cosmic efforts.
The ritual ends in the evening hours after the Bahuda Yatra. The deities are placed outside the Jagannath Temple and dressed like babies with new clothes the next day. The dressing ceremony is referred to as Suna Vesha. This is followed by placing the deities once again in their original place in the sanctum sanctorum. The Rath Yatra comes to an end with this ritual.
Devotees who participate in the Rath Yatra attain special benefits. Worshippers who pull the ropes of the chariots are blessed with moksha. They are also bestowed with spiritual rewards, riches and pleasure along with a harmonious and peaceful life. These devotees are also said to get the merit of various penances. The Rath Yatra also symbolises brotherhood, unity and harmony.
Written by – Deepthi K