Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra (Festival of Chariots) is one of the most awaited and celebrated festivals in India. Rath Yatra is the annual festival of Odisha. It is a state of popular, religious places and “Puri “, perhaps, is the most important city amongst them. Every year this falls on the Ashadha Shukla Paksha Dwitiya. This year the holy festival is being celebrated on 23rd June 2020.
Ratha Yatra, also referred to as Shri Gundicha jatra, Ratha Jatra or Chariot festival, is any public procession in a chariot. The term particularly refers to the annual Rathajatra in Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and other East Indian states, particularly the Odia festival that involves a public procession with a chariot with deities Jagannath (Vishnu avatar), Balabhadra (his brother), Subhadra (his sister) and Sudarshana Chakra (his weapon) on a ratha, a wooden deula-shaped chariot.
Puri’s world-famous Jagannath Rath Yatra takes place every year and lakhs of devotees throng to see the giant wooden chariots of the Lord Jagannath being dragged by people. This year, the yatra will not take place for the first time in 284 years. Jagannath Rath Yatra had been going on continuously since its inception in 1737. Keeping in mind the deadly Covid-19 virus, the Supreme Court has put a stay on Rath Yatra this year, saying “Lord Jagannath won’t forgive us if we allow it”.
The three chariots of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhdra are newly constructed every year with wood of specified trees like phassi, dhausa, etc. They are customarily brought from the ex-princely state of Dasapalla by a specialist team of carpenters who have hereditary rights and privileges for the same. The logs are traditionally set afloat as rafts in the river Mahanadi. These are collected near Puri and then transported by road.
The artists and painters of Puri decorate the cars and paint flower petals and other designs on the wheels, the wood-carved charioteer and horses, and the inverted lotuses on the wall behind the throne. Around each of the chariots are nine Parsva devatas, painted wooden images representing different deities on the chariots’ sides. Each chariot has a charioteer (Sarathi) and four horses.
The chariot for Jagannath is approximately 45 feet high and 35 feet square and takes about 2 months to construct. Lord Jagannath’s chariot is called Nandighosha. The chariot of Lord Balabhadra, called the Taladhwaja, is the one with the Palm Tree on its flag. The chariot of Subhadra, is known as Dwarpadalana, meaning “trampler of pride”.
In the Ratha Jatra, the three deities are taken from the Jagannath Temple in the chariots to the Gundicha Temple, where they stay for nine days. They are also accompanied by Sudarshana chakra. Thereafter, the deities again ride the chariots back to Shri Mandir in Bahuda Jatra. On the way back, the three chariots halt at the Mausi Maa Temple and the deities are offered Poda Pitha, a kind of baked cake which are generally consumed by the people of Odisha.
After the chariots of the deities return to the main temple from the Gundicha temple, the deities are attired in gold ornaments and worshipped on the chariots. This celebration is known as Suna Besha.