Puri is renowned throughout the world for its Rath Yatra. Puri is a small city in Orissa that revolves around the famous Jagannatha temple and activities related to it. Rath means chariot and Yatra means journey.
Thus it is all about the journey of Shree Jagannatha to Gundicha Mata's Temple via Mausi Maa Temple, his aunt’s home (near Balagandi Chaka in Puri).
Jagannatha along with his sister Subhadra and elder brother Balaram takes this trip during June or July of every year when a large population pull the huge chariots together to its destination. This journey is accompanied by a majestic procession, fairs and feasts. The occasion is telecasted live on Doordarshan, the National TV channel.
Legend behind the festival Rath Yatra Puri:
The festival is known by several names – Gundicha Yatra, Ghosa Yatra, Navadina Yatra, Dasavatara Yatra and many more. The mythological story behind the festival is as follows:
- According to the mythology in Satya Yuga, the king of Malayava, Indrayumna, was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. Once, Nilamadhava Vishnu appeared in his dream. To know, where that particular form of Vishnu was worshiped, he sent his messengers to four directions. One of the messengers, Vidyapati was sent to the east towards Utkal (present Orissa).
- Vidyapati went to a village named Savara in Utkal, where he stayed at the king’s place. Visvavasu (the king of Savara) had a daughter named Lalita who later fell in love with Vidyapati and both got married. In due course of his stay there, Vidyapati came to know that Visvavasu was an ardent follower of Lord Vishnu and visited the forest frequently to worship the Nilamadhava that was installed in a blue temple.
- On Lalita’s request her father Visvavasu took Vidyapati to the blue temple but made him blindfolded. The deity then expressed his desire to be worshiped by King Indrayumna and saying so it immediately changed its form from Nilamadhava to Daru.
- Getting this news from Vidyapati, Indrayumna went to the swargalok (heaven) to invite Viswakarma (the God of construction). Indrayumna had to wait for nine yugas for Viswakarma as the latter was engaged in meditation.
- Vishnu again appeared in Indrayumna’s dream and instructed him to pick up wooden logs from the river for making his idol. He himself started making his own idol in disguise of a carpenter in condition with the king that no one should enter the temple while he is making it.
- The queen out of curiosity could not keep the king’s promise and entered the temple midway. Vishnu stopped working and thus the incomplete form of the three deities (Jagannatha, Balarama and Subhadra other forms of Vishnu) was installed and worshiped at the Puri Temple.
Hindu mythology is multilayered, according to other popular hearings – Jagannatha once expressed his desire to visit his Aunt’s place at Gundicha Ghar or Gundicha Mandir for a week. His wish actually came true as he along with his brother and sister visited their aunt’s place and since then every year people of Orissa and other places in India observe this week long festival in June/July.
Tradition and customs of Rath Yatra Puri:
Three wooden chariots are gorgeously adorned. The wooden structure of the chariots resembles that of the Puri temple. The chariots are constructed every year from the wood of locally found trees like Phaasi, Dhausi etc. The logs are brought by the specialized carpenters. They floated in the Mahanadi River to alive the traditional belief.
There are long and strong ropes attached to the chariots which are pulled by thousands of devotees. Pulling the ropes is a much desired action among the devotees as they risk their lives jostling in the crowd to get a hand over the ropes for the divine blessing.
This is the only day of the year when the devotees are not allowed to enter the temple. All devotees and visitors throng the route of the procession to get a glimpse of the deities inside the chariots.
Drums, tambourines, trumpets and devotional songs plays as the chariot proceed along with the massive crowd towards the Gundicha Temple which is about 2 km away from the Jagannatha Temple.
Extensive fun filled Melas or fairs are set during six days of the festival. People of all age, sex, religion and nation enjoy together feeling the ethnic essence of the festival. The sixth day of the festival wraps up with Shree Jagannatha’s return from his Aunt’s house along with his brother and sister.
Cultural significance of Rath Yatra Puri:
The Rath Yatra not only works as a cultural identity for Puri but also for India. ISKCON or the International Society for Krishna Consciousness is in a way responsible for spreading the tradition of Rath Yatra outside Puri.
They have numerous centres strewn over various parts of the world. On the occasion of Rath Yatra decorated Rathas of considerable size, not as huge as the Rathas of Puri, come out of the ISKCON centres and take a symbolic ride through the respective cities.
Moreover, children in many parts of India pull miniature Rathas with three idols within it. Various cultural programs are arranged during the festival as eminent artists, dancers and singers feel privileged to perform on the occasion.
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