Every year, Lord Jagannath travels with his elder brother Balaram (Balabhadra) and sister Subhadra on grand chariots. The festival begins early in the morning with the invocation ceremony and continues all day. Pulling the chariots to make them roll is considered to be the most auspicious part of the festival.
Some people attribute the origin of Rath Yatra custom to the Buddhist ritual of the similar nature that has been documented in the manuscripts of the Chinese traveler and historian Fa Hien in the 5th century AD.
Apart from religious significance, this festival has social significance too – it gives employment to many people who work tirelessly to bring the festival to its full glory, the fairs associated with the festival makes cottage industries flourish and brings together many people from different walks of life and imbibe in them festive spirit.
Dates of Ratha Yatra in the next five years according to the modern day calendar:
- In 2014, the Ratha Yatra date is on Sunday, June 29.
- In 2015, the Ratha Yatra date is on Saturday, July 18.
- In 2016, the Ratha Yatra date is on Wednesday, July 6.
- In 2017, the Ratha Yatra date is on Sunday, June 25.
- In 2018, the Ratha Yatra date is on Saturday, July 14.
Traditional “tithi” to mark the occasion:
According to the Hindu Lunar calendar system, Ratha Yatra is celebrated on the second day (Dwitiya) of the Indian month of Ashada during the bright phase of the moon (Shukla Paksha).
Type of Holiday in India:
Ratha Yatra is not a gazetted or national holiday in India. However, people all across the various cities of the country who observe the occurrence have the option of taking a Restricted Holiday on this day to mark the occasion. Government and private offices remain open on this day though in places where this occasion is not hugely celebrated. Also, local businesses, banks and transportation systems in the cities operate in full swing. However, certain institutions may opt to remain closed on this day.
Observances to mark the occasion at some places famous for the occasion:
- Puri: The Ratha Yatra of Puri is renowned all over the world and it attracts people from all across the globe. Millions of tourists flock to the city in Odisha for pilgrimage or just to witness the event. Puri is the abode of Lords Jagannath, Balaram and Goddess Subhadra. Many artisans are engaged to construct the three chariots, while touches of artists bring them style and grandeur. It is considered to be extremely auspicious to catch a glimpse of the deities in the chariot. It is also considered very pious to be able to touch any part of the chariot, the rope or even the wheels.
- Maahesh: Maahesh is a small suburban town located in the Hooghly district of West Bengal. Here is celebrated the oldest Rath Yatra of Bengal in regal style and grandeur and it brings together a huge mass of people. The event at Maahesh has been witness to many historical anecdotes and has brought together many eminent people of Bengal to join hands in the festivity.
- Ahmadabad: Rath Yatra is celebrated with much grandeur in Ahmadabad where thousands of people join hands to celebrate the event. Although Ahmadabad Rath Yatra faced troubles during the communal riots in 1992, it has not been able to suppress the spirits of the people or of the festivity.
- Narayanpur, Subarnapur, Orissa: Rath Yatra is dear to people of all communities for it has the ability to unite people from all walks of life. This is especially evident in the place called Narayanpur which is located in the Subarnapur district of Odisha. From rich to poor, to Brahmins to Sudras, from Hindus to Muslims – everyone join hands to participate in the fair that is organized for the purpose. People also participate together in all the rituals associated with the festival, right from building the chariots to pulling them.
- Dhamrai, Bangladesh: In Bangladesh, the temple of Jagannath at Dhamrai celebrates Rath Yatra every year with devotion and attracts thousands of Hindus. The Hindu community of Bangladesh considers this festival to be one of the most significant events of the year. The ancient chariot belonging to the temple was burnt down in 1971 during the Bangladesh Liberation War by the army of Pakistan. However, it has been reconstructed with Indian aid and the lost glory restored.
- ISKON makes Rath Yatra go international: ISKON Hare Krishna Movement has made Rath Yatra a known festival in the international scenario. Thousands of cities across the globe where ISKON has a center celebrate the festival with much fanfare since Jagannath is considered to be an avatar of Lord Vishnu (as is Lord Krishna).
The sojourn continues for nine days and for the purpose the chariots are constructed afresh each year with individual specifications – Jagannath’s chariot has 18 wheels and is 23 cubits high, and is called Nandighosa; Balaram’s one has 16 wheels and is 22 cubits high, and is called Taladhvajahas; while Subhadra’s rath has 14 wheels and is 21 cubits high, and is known as Devadalana. Even the wooden deities get a new life once in every twelve years.
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