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ratha yatra

The Famous Ratha Yatra (Car Festival) of Odisha- Facts, Myths and Culture

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The Famous Ratha Yatra of Odisha is a regional holiday observed every year. On the day of Ashadha Shukla paksha Dwitiya (second day after the new moon in the month of Ashadha). It is usually held in late June or early July, during the rainy season in Odisha.

The annual journey of Lord Jagannath involves  large chariots being pulled through the streets to commemorate with his brother Lord Balabhadra, and their sister Subhadra to their aunts temple, the Gundicha Temple, in Puri, Odisha.

In Odisha Ratha yatra is the most popular and predict festival of the year and means The Famous Ratha Yatra in Odisha.

Facts

  • As practiced in a few other orthodox Hindu temples, none other than Hindus will be allowed to enter the gates of the Jagannath temple in Puri to view the deities and offer worship.
  • However, the entry is open to anyone irrespective of caste and religion during the Jagannath Rath Yatra. During this festival time, all people can worship the Lord and receive his blessings.
  • The Rath yatra sees the procession of three independent chariots for the three deities of Jagannath, Balarama and Shubadra. Hence this event is also called the festival of chariots. The names of these three chariots are Nandighosha, Taladhwaja and Devadalana.
  • The most astonishing facts about the Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra is that all the three chariots are constructed anew year after year prior to the festival.
  • The construction makes use of newer materials as the years go by. However, the structure, model, design and measurements of the chariot remain the same. In front of each chariot, four wooden horses are fixed.
  • There is an interesting story behind the chariot festival. It is said Lord Jagannath catches high fever year on year prior to the Rath yatra. Hence he is given rest for a period of one week before the chariot festival.
  • The temple doors remain shut for the public and none is allowed to disturb the resting Lord during this period. The chariot procession comes as a change for the Lord to visit his maternal aunt’s house after he recovers from his fever.

Myths

  • The Rath Yatra, which is a ruse for the god to walk out of his abode to meet his people—caste, creed and religion notwithstanding? After all, the first reincarnation of Lord Jagannath called Nilamadhab (due to his colour) was discovered and first worshipped by the Savara (cattle-breeding tribe) king, Viswavasu.
  • It is a sum total of all, say seasoned cultural columnist Kedar Mishra and temple ritual and cuisine expert Minati Parhi, who believe the Rath Yatra to be the first non-Vedic festival that was devised to bring people of different communities together.
  • In fact, Mishra adds, “the inspiration of the Rath Yatra was from the Buddhist ritual of using hand-made chariots, where they used symbols of Buddha to popularise the philosophy of ahimsa with no attempts to covert people.”
  • Chinese traveller Fa Hien, who visited Odisha in the fifth century AD, writes about the various chariots of Buddha being pulled along public roads – it is a tradition that is still practiced in Nepal, where god and goddesses are believed to be the different avatars of Buddha.
  • Although, the motif of the rath, or the chariot, acting as the carrier for gods, per se, can be found in the Vedas themselves. The Rig Veda speaks of the hymn itself as the chariot that reaches to the gods and is also the vehicle of sacrifice that brings gods to humans (Rig Veda II.18.1).
  • At another place, the seers who created the Vedic verses are regarded the makers of such chariots (RV I.61.4). Taitreeya Brahmana (verse I.5.12.5) makes Prajapathi say that the ‘metres were his chariot’ and Gayatri and Jagati became the sides of the chariot and Usnil and Tristubh its side horses while Anustubh and Pankti became its yoke horse and Brahti, its seat. The Upanishads also use the metaphor of the chariot and its rider for the body and the Atman respectively.

Culture

  • The twelfth century back the observance of Ratha Yatra of Jagannath dates back for the Description of the festival can be found in Key Hindu texts such as Brahma purana, padma purana and Skanda purana.
  • In India and Bangladesh Jagannath literally means ‘Lord of the Universe’ and is a ideal worshipped in regional traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. By Hindus jagannath is consider a form of Vishnu.
  • The idols of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra are usually worshipped in the sanctum of the Jagannath temple, but once a year during the month of Ashadha, they are brought out to travel three kilometres to the Gundicha Temple, in three huge chariots, drawn by hundreds of people.
  • In the past, it was not unknown for people to throw themselves under the wheels of the chariots to attain salvation.

The Juggernaut

  • The chariot for Jagannath is  14 metres (45 feet) high and 11 metres (35 feet) square. It takes about two months to construct. The artists and painters of Puri decorate the chariots in bright colours with religious motifs. The chariot of Jagannath is the etymological origin of the English word ‘juggernaut’.
The Juggernaut
  • The chariots stay in the Gundicha Temple for a week before being brought back to the Jagannath Temple via the Mausi Maa Temple, where the deities are ceremoniously offered poda pitha, a kind of baked cake which is usually only eaten by the poorest in society.
  • Needless to say, the city of Puri grinds to a standstill on The Famous Ratha Yatra in Odisha and a week later on the return journey.

Other Ratha Yatra festivals take place in other parts of India and also in Bangladesh, but Puri remains the oldest and grandest. Since the late 1960s, Ratha Yatra festivals have taken place in many cities across the globe, due to the promotion by the Hare Krishna movement.

The popularity of this Hindu festival is bolstered by followers of other religions who participate to get the blessings of Lord Jagannath.

One can estimate the popularity of this festival by looking at the crowd gathered during the festival. The pious tourists seeking blessings from Lord Jagannath remain present there and enjoy being a part of this majestic celebration.

The holy city Puri with its magnificent temples and spectacular beaches makes a perfect holiday spot for tourists. So, if you want to participate in The Famous Ratha Yatra in Odisha then you must plan during Ratha Yatra so, that you will know how puri people celebrate Ratha yatra.

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