Jagannath Rathyatra is the biggest Hindu festival associated with Lord Jagannath, which is primarily held at Puri, the temple city of Odisha.
This festival commemorates the annual visit of Lord Jagannath to the Gundicha Temple. Lord Jagannath is believed to be another form of Lord Vishnu and this journey is considered to be the Lord of the Universe’s journey.
Etymologically Jagannath means the Lord of the Universe, Jagat that is the universe and Nath means Lord. The Jagannath Rathyatra is a festival which is more than five thousand years old and where Lord Jagannath is worshipped along with his brother Lord Balbhadra and sister Subhadra.
When is Jagannath Rathyatra celebrated?
On the auspicious day of the Dwitiya Tithi of the shukla paksha of the Ashada month according to the traditional Hindu calendar. According to the Gregorian calendar, this falls in the month of June or July, in the waxing phase of the moon. In 2019 the Rathyatra is on July 4th.
Legend behind the Rathyatra
- It is said that Lord Jagannath on the day of the Rathyatra travels to Gundicha Mata temple in honor of Queen Gundicha, the wife of the legendary king Indrayumna, who had built the Puri Jagannath temple.
- The Jagannath devotees clean the Gundicha temple a day before the Rathyatra, which is called the Gundicha Marjana.
- After resting for a period of 8 days, Lord Jagannath returns to his own abode, which is called the Bahuda Yatra or the return.
- Enroute, Lord Jagannath stops at the Mausi Maa temple dedicated to Goddess Ardhashini, where he partakes an offering of Poda Pitha, which is believed to be his favorite.
The Rath Yatra or the Journey of the chariots
Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra make this journey in 3 richly decorated and elevated rath or chariots. The chariots resemble elegant temple structures. This is the only time when non-Hindus, foreigners and those who are barred from entering the temple (for the temple till the present date maintains strict mandates) can catch a glimpse of the three Lords and Goddess. The road through which the chariots move is called Badadanda. The chariot traverses through 2 kms to the Gundicha Temple. The chariots are pulled by millions of devotees who congregate on these days to Puri to be a part of this auspicious occasion. It is believed that a chance to pull the chariot of Lord Jagannath brings immense blessings from the Lord. The three presiding deities of the temple Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra along with the divine wheel, the Sudarshan Chakra board these chariots.
The Chariots and the traditions
The three chariots are constructed every year anew. These are built from specific trees like phassi, dhausa, etc. The carpenters start building them from the day of the Akshaya Tritiya. This day is also known as the Chandan Yatra, which marks the beginning of the harvesting season. The Chandan Yatra lasts for 3 weeks and culminates in the Snana Yatra, where the deities of Jahgannath, Balarama or Balabhadra and Subhadra are brought out and placed in jeweled thrones. From this day the deities are said to be in a convalescing mode and are not visible to devotees. Three special Patta Chaitras, or traditional paintings of Odisha are hung as curtains keeping the deities away from the devotees’ view.
The wood for the chariots are brought from the states of Dasapalla and an expert team of carpenters work on them following centuries of set themes and patterns. The logs once selected are set afloat in the river Mahanadi and then collected near Puri and brought to be worked upon. These chariots combined with stripes of red cloth along with black, yellow and blue colors are kept in front of the main gate of the temple, known as the Sinhadwara or the Lion’s Gate.
Lord Jagannath’s Rath
Lord Jagannath’s chariot is called the Nandighosa. It is also known as Garudadhwaja or Kapiladhwaja. Nandighosa is forty-five feet high and forty-five feet square. It has 16 wheels in the diameter of 7 foot each. It is covered with red and yellow clothes, as Lord Jagannath is believed to be the one and same as Lord Krishna, who is called PItambara, and loves the color yellow. The Lord in this chariot is accompanied by Madanmohan. The chariot has 4 horses which are white in color and a sarathi or a charioteer called Daruka.
Lord Balabhadra’s Rath
Lord Balabhadra’s chariot is called Taladhwaja or Langaladhwaja. It is called Taladhwaja, as it has Palm tree as its flag. The height of this chariot is forty four feet. This chariot is covered with red and blue colored clothes and has 14 wheels with a 7 foot diameter. Lord Balabhadra is accompanied by Ramakrishna. Lord Balabhadra’s chariot is pulled by 4 horses which are datk in color and his charioteer is called Matali.
Goddess Subhadra’s Rath
The rath or chariot of Goddess Subhadra is called Darpadalana, Devadalana or Padmadhwaja. The name Darpadalana, literally means one who tramples pride. This chariot is forty three feet in height and has 12 wheels with a 7 foot diameter in each. It is covered with red and black cloth as black is the color of shakri. Subhadra’s chariot is pulled by 4 red colored horses and her charioteer is called Arjuna. Devi subhadra is accompanied by Sudarshana.
All the chariots have 9 parsva devata each painted in their sides.
Significance of the Jagannath Rathyatra
- The Ratha Yatra is supremely important as it is believed that Lord Jagannath, who is a form of Krishna and Vishnu, came on the earth to release humanity from the bondages of their sufferings.
- His original manifestation was of Nilamadhaba and he was in that avatar worshipped as a Nyagrodha Briksha or banyan tree.
- It is believed that anyone who came in its vicinity got emancipated from the cycle of birth and re-birth.
- It is believed that the effect of the Lord of Death, Yama’s effect is also lessened in the city of Puri and thus it is called Srikshetra.
- The Katha Upanishad has drawn the comparison of the human body as the chariot and the Sarathi or the charioteer as God. It is a symbolical journey where God drives the human beings towards material existence.
- The wheels are symbols of velour. The horses symbolize tolerance, charity, pity and self-discipline; and the reins of the horses are forgiveness.
- According to Skanda Purana, those who get to see the deities in the Gundicha Temple earn the blessings and benefits of the sacrifice of a thousand horses.
- A glimpse of Lord Jagannath in his dark colors is said to be extremely auspicious.
- The magnitude of the festival is such that devotees who get to pull the chords of the chariot are said to be conferred with penance of ages, blessings and numerous other pious deeds.
Rath Yatras at other places
The Rath Yatra festival has gained worldwide popularity since 1968 through the Hare Krsihna movement of the ISKCON. The Rath Yatra festival happens with lot of devotion and colorful fanfare in cities like London, Budapest, Melbourne, New York, Toronto, Singapore, amongst many other places. Closer home, apart from Puri various other places in India also have Rath Yatra festival with lot of devotion.