Ratha Yatra: World’s Largest Chariot Festival

The Ratha Yatra festival commences from the second day of the month of Ashada of the Indian Lunar Calendar, which corresponds to the Gregorian month of June-July. It is one of the most significant festivals observed across the Indian subcontinent. The records of the Brahma Purana, Padma Purana, and the Skanda Purana describe the significance of Shri Jagannatha Mandir and the annual Ratha Yatra festival celebrated in the Puri district of Odisha. It is observed as a grand carnival, attended by millions of devotees every year from across the world.

Legend suggests that once upon a time in ancient India, Lord Jagannath (Krishna) and his siblings, Lord Balabhadra (Balarama) and Devi Subhadra, bathe in the menacing summer heat. This event marks the occasion of Snana Purnima. Due to bathing with 108 pots of water under the threatening summer heat, the siblings fell ill and were taken to the ‘Anasar Ghar’, where Ayurvedic medication was administered for their recovery.

After their health recovered, the appetite of the siblings returned and they wished to taste the delicacies prepared by their aunt Gundicha, who leaves at a distance from their temple. Lord Krishna and his siblings set off in their chariots to reach their aunt’s house. This marks the onset of the 9-day Ratha Yatra event.

The highlight of the festival is the grand procession of the richly decorated chariots from their enshrined Shri Jagannath Mandir to the Gundicha Mata Mandir, carrying splendid idols of Lord Jagannath, his sister Subhadra, and elder brother Balabhadra. Devotees across the world crave the opportunity to have a glance at the festivity and hold or pull the rope attached to the chariot at least once in their lifetime.

Ratha Yatra Schedule for 2023

◙ Snan Purnima – Sunday, 04 June 2023
◙ Ratha Yatra / Gundicha Yatra – Tuesday, 20 June 2023
◙ Return(Ulto) Ratha Yatra / Bahuda Yatra – Wednesday, 28 June 2023
◙ Suna Besha – Thursday, 29 June 3023
◙ Niladri Bijee – Saturday, 01 July 2023

Ratha Yatra at Shri Jagannath Mandir in Puri, Odisha

Presiding the grand procession of Ratha Yatra, Chandana Yatra or Sandalwood voyage takes place which is the longest festival observed at the Shri Jagannath Mandir. The festival lasts for a period of forty-two days and is divided into two phases – Bahara Chandana and Bhitara Chandana, each lasting for twenty-one days.

Bhahara Chandana commences from the day of Akshay Tritiya in which the initial construction of the Rathas (Chariots) takes place. The main deities, along with the five Shivlingas of the temple are taken out from the premises of the Jagannath Temple and are marched towards Narendra Tirtha Tank. Other deities like Madanamohana, Bhudevi, and Sridevi join them for their riding event in the river. The deities are placed in two boats- Nanda and Bhadra and are taken for an excursion. Bhitara Chandana predominantly refers to the rituals held within the premises of the temple. However, several riding events are also hosted on the auspicious occasions of Amavarshya, Purnima, Shasti, and Ekadashi.

The much-awaited Ratha yatra commences from the fortnight of the second day of the month of Ashada, the brightest and most auspicious night. The morning is followed by joyous preparation of rituals such as the Mangal Alati, Abakash, Ballabha, and Khechedi bhog, followed by the most important ritual, the Mangalpana ritual. Then, the four deities are placed in chariots in sequential order with the ceremonial ritual of pahandi.

After the deities are enshrined in their respective chariots, the ritual of Chehhera Panhara is performed where the chariots are mopped with the blessed golden broom and decorated with grandeur.

Chehhera Panhara is followed by the main ritual of pulling the chariots. The chariots are attached to four large wooden horses whose reigns are pulled by the Sevaks or devotees. This is usually in accompaniment to gongs and trumpet. Along with the Sevaks, Ratha Dahuk or a mock jester sings of the glories of Lord Jagannath and enlightens the mind of the people.

The chariot is a symbolism of Sadhana Sakti, a spiritual exercise to elevate the inner power. Legends suggest that on experiencing the Ratha Yatra or on holding the rope, the person is alleviated from the penances of his life. The rope that is attached to the chariots acts as a transmitter to the woes and grievances of life, which is consumed by the Lord. The central chariot carrying the deity of Lord Jagannath is known as the Nandigosha, the second chariot carrying Balabhadra is known as Taladhwaja, and the third chariot carrying the deity of Subhadra is known as Darpadalana.

The ultimate destination of the Ratha Yatra, the Gundicha Mata Mandir remains almost vacant throughout the year but embraces joy and valour during the entire period of the Ratha Yatra. The temple lies at the end of Bada Dhanda, the designated route of the Ratha Yatra. Every year, before the arrival of Lord Jagannath and his siblings, the temple wears a festive appearance and is cleaned and decorated beautifully. This Kalinga-temple architecture is set amidst a garden, known as the ‘Garden House of Jagannath.’ The procession of the chariots progresses towards the Gundicha Temple, which is about 3 km away and arrives at the temple before nightfall. The deities are heartily welcomed on the second day and reside in the temple for the next seven days, till they make way for their return journey.

Basuda Yatra or the return journey of the chariots is also known as the Dakhshinabhimukhi Yatra, which simplifies the meaning that the chariot is moving towards the south, or returning home. The retrieval of the chariots is also quite eventful and observes many rituals such as Mangalpana, Bandapana, etc. The three chariots return on the day of Ashada Shukla Dashami. On their way back, they are offered Poda-pitha or a special sweetened cake from the Mausimaa Mandir. After this ritual, the Balabhadra and Darpandalana go ahead of the Nandigosha, while Nandigosha halts at Shreenahara and observes Goddess Laxmi being carried in a palanquin for Laxmi Narayan Bheta rites to be performed.

The last phase of the Ratha Yatra is marked by the Suna Besha, in which the deities are showered with golden ornaments in front of the grand Lion’s Gate on the occasion of Shukla Ekadash Tithi. This is followed by Adhar Pana, where a rich drink is offered to Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra, by the priests, and finally the rituals of Niladri Bijee, which marks the return of the trinity to the main temple.

Ratha Yatra Celebrations across India and the World

The mystique nature of this festival captures the hearts of devotees across the Indian subcontinent and the World. Several western countries like Moscow, New York, Dublin, etc. commemorate the spiritual journey of the Lord Jagannath (Krishna), Lord Balabhadra (Balarama), and Devi Subhadra. Likewise, in India, several states observe the festivity with much grandeur.

Besides the Puri Ratha Yatra, the Ratha Yatra at ISKON Temple in Mayapur has been in vogue since 1936, as the world’s second-largest Ratha Yatra festival. Devotees throng to join hands with each other to pull the huge chariot attached to sturdy ropes. The chariots make way to Mahesh Gundicha Bari or Masir Bari (meaning Aunt’s house). This is one of the biggest and most important festivals observed in Bengal as the Lord directly contacts with the common masses and looks upon their woes and sorrows, shelters the destitute and poor, empathizes with the sick and challenged by shrouding over with a layer of positivity.

Ratha Yatra at Ahmedabad is observed since 1878, with much piousness, which is quite different than its other counterparts. Chariots are constructed out of coconut trees and are pulled by devotees of the Khalsa class. The Ratha Yatra commences with the Mangla Aarti, performed at 4 AM, amidst the break of dawn, followed by the ritual of Pahind Vidhi, which is usually conducted by the Chief Minister of the state, that symbolizes the cleaning of the path traversed by the chariots.

The ISKON confluence throughout the world hosts the Ratha Yatra which is a fascinating breakthrough amidst western culture and traditions. Mostly due to the unavailability of resources, the new chariots cannot be constructed each year. Hindus throng across the streets to pull the heavy and sturdy chariots and view the grand processions. The processions are carried forward by singing in the name of Hari, or Lord Krishna. Social gatherings are religious and involve different inspirational and spiritual discussions.

Legends associated with the festival of Ratha Yatra

There goes many legends and stories associated with the Puri Jagganath Mandir and the annual Ratha Yatra festival. One such legend is that it will always rain on the day of the Ratha Yatra, which appears quite true. Ratha Yatra at Puri Jagganath Mandir is the world’s largest chariot procession. The architectural marvel of the chariots is constructed by fine artisans over a period of 42 days, and the chariot is immediately dismantled after the event. This becomes a rich source of wood for the temple kitchens which feeds about two thousand to twenty thousand people every day.

It is quite noticeable that unlike well moulded and furnished finish of other deities, the sibling deities are carved out of resin, cloth, and wood. The disproportional heads and malformed bodies evoke the legend of impatience of King Indrayumna, a devotee of Lord Vishnu. Legends suggest that Krishna’s siblings carried his half-cremated body to Dwarka, and quite simultaneously King Indrayumna had visions that Krishna’s body floated back in the form of a lifeless log. Indrayumna sought to build a temple to house the Lord. Vishwakarma, the God of machinery and architecture, took the form of an old carpenter for moulding out the deities. But he gave one condition that he must not be disturbed in the process. The impatient king put a blind eye to the condition and opened the doors. Thus, the statues remained incomplete and worshipped as such.

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