Rath Yatra, also known as the Festival of Chariots, is one of the most significant festivals in India.
It is celebrated with great fervor and devotion in the eastern state of Odisha, India, as well as in other parts of the country and the world. The festival is celebrated in the month of June or July every year, according to the Hindu lunar calendar.
The origins of Rath Yatra can be traced back to the ancient city of Puri in Odisha, where the Jagannath temple is located.
The temple is dedicated to Lord Jagannath, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and his siblings Balabhadra (Balarama) and Subhadra. This temple of Lord Jagannath in Puri has been a center of worship for Hindus for thousands of years.
Which is why there are both mythological and historical references about building this temple. In the Puranas, (mythological texts of the Hindus), the temple was built by King Indradyumna, and he asked Vishvakarma to carve the deities.
According to the Puri Temple’s history, it was built between 949 and 959 A.D. by King Jajati Kesari and rebuilt between 1078 and 1147 A.D. by the famous Ganga Dynasty king Ananta Varman Chodaganga Deva. Anangabhima Deva later completed the temple construction from 1190 to 1198 A.D.
The festival celebrates the annual journey of the divine siblings from the Puri Jagannath temple to the Gundicha temple, located about 3 kilometers away. This journey is undertaken on three massive chariots, pulled by thousands of devotees.
The Puri Rath Yatra festival has both cultural and spiritual significance. On the cultural front, it is an occasion for people of all castes and communities to come together and celebrate. Processions, music, dance, and feasting accompany the festival.
On the spiritual front, it is a symbol of the journey of the soul towards enlightenment. The journey of the divine siblings from the Jagannath temple to the Gundicha temple represents the journey of the soul from ignorance to knowledge, from darkness to light. The festival is a reminder that the ultimate goal of life is to attain spiritual liberation, or moksha, by surrendering to the divine will.
Rath Yatra has been celebrated for centuries and has become an integral part of the cultural and religious landscape of India. The festival has inspired numerous works of literature, music, and art, and has been celebrated by people of all faiths and nationalities. It is a testament to the enduring power of faith and devotion, and a reminder of the importance of celebrating our shared humanity.
Let’s explore some of the legends and stories surrounding the Rath Yarta celebration.
Discovering the Story Behind Rath Yatra
Every year, millions of people from all over the world gather in the city of Puri, located in the eastern state of Odisha, to witness one of the largest and most colorful festivals in India: the Rath Yatra festival.
This year for Rath Yatra 2023, the Puri city of Odisha is expecting a record number of visitors, and due to this grandeur of this celebration in India, it has contributed a word in the English dictionary – Juggernaut meaning a powerful or overwhelming force.
The festival is believed to be the oldest chariot procession in the world, and it marks the annual ceremonial procession of the three deities from their home temple to another temple located in what is believed to be their aunt’s home.
The journey of the deities is documented in undated Hindu sacred texts known as the Puranas, which are believed to have been written a few thousand years ago.
Being one of the largest chariot festivals in India, the holy journey of the divine siblings is taken out of the temple and gets to come together with common devotees. There are legends and story behind the Rath Yatra celebration. Let’s explore a few of them.
The Chariots of Rath Yatra Celebration
Made out of Neem wood, the chariots of this celebration are constructed over 42 days by artisans families that have the hereditary right to build them with 4,000 wooden pieces, and not a single nail is used. These chariots are eventually dismantled and used for making toys or firewood in the kitchen of the temple.
It is a very conventional legend that on the day of the Rath Yatra celebration, it rains, and each year millions of devotees gather as they watch the “king” sweep the road with a gold broom before the three chariots leave for Gundicha temple.
The chariots are pulled through the streets of Puri, and the devotees sing and dance in celebration of the journey of the deities. The journey of the chariots is believed to be a symbolic representation of the journey of the soul from ignorance to enlightenment.
Now you may wonder, “What is the name of Jaganath’s Rath or Chariot ”?
The Rath that Jaganath boards is called Nandigosh, which has 18 wheels and is 44 ft tall. Lord Jagannath’s chariot is the largest among his siblings and is decorated with red and yellow colors.
What is the name of Balabhadra’s Rath or Chariots?
Lord Balabhadra, or Balaramas Rath, is called Taladhwaja, which has 16 wheels and is 43 ft tall.
Wondering what is the name of Subhadra’s Rath?
Goddess Subhadra’s Rath or chariot is called Padmadhwaja made of 14 wheels and is 42 ft tall.
Why is Rath Yatra Celebrated?
The reason and story behind rath yatra celebration is that before the festival, for a whole week, the temple doors are shut, and no one is allowed inside because it is believed that the sibling deities have a fever after bathing in the sun with 108 pitchers of water. The breaking of their fever calls for a change of air and place, which is why they go to their aunt’s home for a few days.
What is the story behind origination of Jagannatha?
Legend speaks of how Krishna’s grief-stricken siblings – his elder brother Balabhadra and younger sister Subhadra – rushed into the Dwarka sea carrying his half-cremated body.
At the same moment, King Indrayumna dreamed that Krishna’s body had floated back up on his shores as a log. The two legends merge here: Indrayumna decided to build a temple to house the log. His next task was to find someone to craft the idols from it.
Legends say that Vishwakarma, God’s own architect, arrived as an old carpenter. He agreed to carve the idols, but on the condition that he was not to be disturbed.
However, when he did not emerge from his workshop for weeks, going without food, water, or rest, a worried and impatient King threw the door open.
At the time, the images were only half-finished, but the carpenter disappeared. Still, believing the idols to be made from the very body of God, the King sanctified them and placed them in the temple.
When the deities disintegrate, they are remade in the same half-done image with new wood every 12 years. They were last remade in 2015.
How many days does this festival last?
After resting for eight days at his aunt’s house, or what we know as the Gundicha Temple, Jagannatha, Balabhadra (Balaram), and Subhadra return to their original abode, which is the Puri Jagannath Temple. This is called the “Ulta Rath Yatra” which takes place on Dashami Tithi of Ashadh and this year we are celebrating on June 28th.
The festival is not limited to Puri alone; it is celebrated in other parts of India as well. The festival is unique as it involves the procession of three Hindu gods, who are taken out of their temples and carried in a grand chariot procession to meet their devotees.
The Rath Yatra festival is a celebration of unity, peace, and harmony, and it brings people from different walks of life together to celebrate the spirit of humanity. By learning about and appreciating different cultures, we can promote understanding and respect for diversity, which are essential for a more peaceful and harmonious world.