INDIA: The Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra, also known as the Chariot Festival, is one of the most celebrated and revered religious events in India.
This festival holds great significance for millions of devotees who gather in the holy city of Puri, located in the eastern state of Odisha, to witness the grand procession of Lord Jagannath, his siblings, and the majestic chariots.
It’s an unforgettable event that knocks on the door every year, showcasing the cultural heritage and spiritual fervour of India. The Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra starts on Dwitiya Tithi in Ashadha, Shukla Paksha, as per the traditional calendar. This year, it has fallen on June 20. Currently, India is immersed in celebrating one of the biggest Hindu festivals.
The complete schedule of this year’s Jagannath Rath Yatra is as follows:
Tuesday, June 20, 2023: The Jagannath Rath Yatra will commence, and the deities will begin their voyage towards the Gundicha temple.
June 24, 2023 (Saturday): Hera Panchami (the first five days that the deities are housed at the Gundicha temple).
June 27, 2023 (Tuesday): Sandhya Darshan, Navami Darshan, or Adap Mandap Darshan. An auspicious event where devotees can visit and pray to all the deities.
June 28, 2023 (Wednesday): Bahuda Yatra, or the time when the gods travel back to their homes.
June 29, 2023 (Thursday): Sunabesa (the time when all three deities are housed back in the Jagannath temple).
Friday, June 30, 2023: Aadhar Pana (a tradition in which a special beverage is served to the sacred chariots).
July 1, 2023 (Saturday): Niladri BJ, a ceremonial act conducted at the end of the Jagannath Yatra.
Today, on this auspicious occasion of Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra, the air is filled with excitement and devotion as India prepares to celebrate one of its most revered festivals. Let’s delve into the history, significance, and vibrant celebrations that mark this momentous festival.
Historical and mythological significance
The roots of the Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra trace back to ancient times, steeped in historical and mythological significance. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Jagannath, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, along with his siblings, embarks on this celestial journey to visit his aunt’s abode, the Gundicha Temple, located a short distance away. This symbolic journey commemorates Lord Krishna’s pilgrimage to Kurukshetra, as mentioned in the sacred Hindu epic, the Mahabharata.
Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra holds immense religious and cultural significance in Hinduism. The term “Rath Yatra” translates to “chariot procession,” symbolizing the deities’ journey from the Jagannath Temple to the Gundicha Temple, a distance of about three kilometers.
The festival symbolizes the love and devotion of the devotees towards their deities, as they seek blessings and spiritual upliftment. It is believed that participating in this grand procession and catching a glimpse of the deities bestows immense merits and ensures a divine connection with Lord Jagannath.
Rituals and preparations
Months before the Rath Yatra, meticulous preparations are made to ensure the smooth execution of the event. Skilled artisans and carpenters craft the massive chariots, known as “raths,” with utmost precision. Each chariot has a distinct name, color, and structure: the chariot of Lord Jagannath is called Nandighosa, Lord Balabhadra’s chariot is Taladhwaja, and Devi Subhadra’s chariot is known as Darpadalana.
The chariots are built using wood, ropes, and various other materials. The towering structures are adorned with intricate artwork, colorful fabrics, and auspicious symbols. Devotees participate in the process of decorating the chariots, a practice known as “Chhera Pahara,” where they sweep the chariots with golden brooms and offer prayers.
On the day of the Rath Yatra, devotees gather in large numbers around the Jagannath Temple, eagerly awaiting a glimpse of their beloved deities. The atmosphere is charged with devotion, as the air reverberates with the sounds of conch shells, bells, and chanting. Amidst this sacred ambiance, the chariots are pulled by the devotees, who consider it an honor to participate in this sacred act. The enthusiasm and zeal displayed by the devotees during the Rath Yatra are truly awe-inspiring.
The Rath Yatra procession
As the morning sun rises, the grand procession commences, with the three magnificent chariots making their way through the streets of Puri amidst a sea of ecstatic devotees. This year, the Puri Rath Yatra will begin on June 20 at around 10:04 p.m. and reach its destination on June 21 at about 7:09 p.m.
The main chariot, known as the ‘Nandighosa,’ carries Lord Jagannath, followed by the chariot of Lord Balabhadra, called the ‘Taladhwaja,’ and finally, the chariot of Devi Subhadra, called the ‘Darpadalan.’The Jagannath Rath, the tallest of the three chariots, stands at an impressive height of 45 feet and is adorned with intricate carvings and colorful decorations.
The chariots, pulled by ropes, glide forward amidst the fervent cries of “Jai Jagannath” (Hail Jagannath) and the rhythmic beating of drums. The procession halts briefly at the Mausi Maa Temple, where the deities partake in a special ritual meal known as “Podapitha.”
The journey covers a distance of approximately three kilometers, from the Jagannath Temple to the Gundicha Temple, where the deities stay for a week. This symbolic visit represents Lord Jagannath’s annual homecoming to meet his aunt. During this period, devotees have the unique opportunity to receive the divine blessings of the deities outside the sanctum of the Jagannath Temple.
The journey and return
The journey to the Gundicha Temple is not merely a physical passage but holds deep spiritual significance. It symbolizes the belief that Lord Jagannath visits his devotees, embracing all without any discrimination. Along the route, people offer prayers, sing hymns, and partake in the divine atmosphere of devotion.
Upon reaching the Gundicha Temple, the deities are ceremonially welcomed by the temple priests and devotees. Here, they reside for a period of nine days, engaging in various rituals and religious ceremonies. This period, known as the ‘Navakalebara,’ marks the renewal of the wooden idols of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra, and Sudarshan Chakra, symbolizing rejuvenation and continuity of divine energy.
After the nine-day sojourn, the deities begin their return journey, known as the ‘Bahuda Yatra.’ Devotees line the streets, eagerly waiting to catch a glimpse of the divine siblings. The return journey mirrors the fervor and grandeur of the Rath Yatra procession, culminating in the ceremonial re-entry of the deities into the Jagannath Temple.
The Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra is an extraordinary blend of spirituality, devotion, and cultural heritage. It showcases the unwavering faith and devotion of the people towards Lord Jagannath and his divine siblings.
It is a time when the entire city of Puri comes alive with spirituality, colour, and devotion. The Rath Yatra is not just a religious event but also a cultural extravaganza that brings people from all walks of life together, fostering a sense of unity and brotherhood.
While Puri is the epicentre of the Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra, the festival is celebrated with equal fervor across the country. Temples dedicated to Lord Jagannath in different states, such as Odisha, West Bengal, and Assam, also conduct their own Rath Yatras, albeit on a smaller scale. These celebrations provide an opportunity for devotees who cannot make it to Puri to participate in the festivities and express their devotion.
As we celebrate the Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra 2023, let us immerse ourselves in the joyous festivities and the divine aura that surrounds this grand event. May the blessings of Lord Jagannath bring peace, prosperity, and harmony to all. Jai Jagannath!