Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra Begins: History and Significance of the Chariot Festival
The auspicious festival of Rath Yatra is held in Odisha's Puri which marks the journey of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balbhadra and Goddess Subadhra from their actual abode, the Puri Jagannath Temple to the Gundicha temple. This annual festival is also known as the Chariot Festival and is celebrated with much zeal and enthusiasm across the country.
Usually, more than ten lakh devotees from across the nation and abroad gather in Puri to take part in the festival. However, this year due to the Supreme Court's order the annual Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra will be held only with coordination of temple committee, state and central Governments without compromising on health issues. The court has also given a free hand to the Odisha government to stop the Yatra of the situation goes out of control. The court has ordered that only 500 people could be a part of the procession. As per the Hindu calendar, Rath Yatra commences on the Dwitiya Tithi during Shukla Paksha of Ashada month.
History of Rath Yatra
Several stories are associated with the history of Jagannath Yatra. It is believed that Lord Jagannath (popularly known as Lord Krishna) every year wishes to visit his birthplace. Another story says that Lord Krishna's maternal uncle Kansa invited Lord Krishna and Lord Balram to Mathura to kill them and sent Akrur with a chariot to Gokul. The day of their departure from Mathura is celebrated as Rath Yatra.
The other legendry tales believe that Lord Krishna's siblings, elder brother Balabhadra and younger sister Subhadra, walked into the Dwarka sea carrying his half-cremated body. At the same moment, in some other part of India, King Indrayumna had a dream that Krishna's body had floated to his shores as a log and that he should build statues of Krishna, Balabhadra and Subhadra.
Significance and Rituals of the Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra
Lord Jagannath also known as the 'Lord of the Universe' leaves his abode along with siblings Balbhadra and Subadhra for Gundicha Mata's Temple. The Temple was built by King Indradyumna in memory of his beloved wife Queen Gundicha. Since then every year during the Rath Yatra the King of Puri sweeps the chariots with a broom having gold handle as a part of 'Chhera Pahanra' ritual.
Interesting Facts About Jagannath Rath Yatra
- Three different chariots are handcrafted out of Neem wood for Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Lord Balram and for his sister Goddess Subhadra.
- Lord Jagannath's Rath is also known as Nandighosha, Garudadhwaja and Kapiladhwaja, while Lord Balbhadra (Balram) is known as Taladhwaja or Langaladhwaja, and sister Subhadra's chariot is known by the names Darpadalana, Devadalana or Padmadhwaja
- Lord Jagannath's chariot is 44 feet tall and comprises of 16 wheels. The main colours used in his chariot are red and yellow. Lord Balram's chariot, on the other hand, is 43 feet tall and consists of 14 wheels, the prime colours used for decorating his chariot are red and blueish-green. Subhadra's chariot 42 feet tall and has 12 wheels, the main colours of her chariot are red and black.
- The mention of Rath Yatra can also be found in ancient scriptures such as the Brahma Purana, Padma Purana, Skanda Purana and Kapila Samhita.
- The ritual of bringing the idols of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balram and Subhadra out of the temple and placing them on the chariot is known as 'Pahandi'.
- It is believed that on the fourth day of the festival, Goddess Lakshmi, the better-half of Lord Jagannath visits the Gundicha temple to meet her husband.
- The prasad of the Lord Jagannath temple is cooked in clay vessels. 7 vessels are placed on top of each other. The astonishing fact is that the items placed on the topmost vessel are cooked first followed by the other vessels.
- Unlike the other flags that flow in the direction of the wind, the flag of the Jagannath Temple flies in the opposite direction of the wind.
- Every year new Rath is prepared for the Yatra. The preparations of new Rath begins months before at the time of Akshaya Tritya.
This year due to the spread of COVID-19 pandemic the Supreme Court has put a lot of restrictions on the procession and the number of attendees. Curfew has been imposed in Puri and people are not being allowed to move out of their houses. The Odisha government has also sealed its borders and has urged the devotees to catch the live telecast of the Rath Yatra on television.