Rath Yatra: The signature festival of Odisha

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The RathYatra Festival or the Chariot Festival, commemorated in honour of Puri’s Lord Jagannath is one of the biggest and major festival of not only Odisha but of the India too. It is celebrated with huge pump and show and with much reverence and fervour throughout the country, but its grand event is held in JagannathDham at Puri in the state of Odisha. The huge cultural extravaganza and stunning spectacle is the beauty of this festival. It draws pouring crowds of devotees brimming with enthusiasm. Rath Yatra is celebrated every year on the second date of Shukla Pakhya of Ashada month. On this day, a large number of devotees come from all over the country and abroad to participate in this festival.

Lord Jagannath, Goddess Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra are worshiped in the sanctum of the temple at Puri, but once during RathYatra, they are brought out onto the Bada Danda and travel to the Shri Gundicha Temple, in huge chariots allowing the public to have darsana or the holy view. This festival is known as RathYatra, meaning the journey of the chariots. The chariots are huge wheeled wooden structures, which are built anew every year and are pulled by the devotees.

During the bathing festival or the Deva Snana Purnima, the Deities of the temple have a bath with 108 pots of cold water to fight the heat of summer. After this royal bath ceremony the three Deities fall sick and they stay away from the public view for a period of 15 days. This period is known as ‘Anasara’ or ‘Anavasara’ period commences from Jyesthapurnima and ends with Ashadhaamavasya. During these days the Deities stay away from the public and take rest. That is why the sanctum sanctorum is not open to the public for this brief period. Once the period of rest is over, the Lords take a break and travel to their maternal aunt’s house for a change.

When the deities are taken out from the Shri Mandir to the Chariots in a formal and elaborate procession known as Pahandi Vijay. After the Pahandi is over, the holy chariots are swept with stately formality and ceremoniousness by the Gajapati of Puri which is called as Chhera Pahara. The Gajapati wears the outfit of a sweeper and sweeps all around the deities and chariots in the Chera Pahara ritual. The Gajapati then cleanses the road before the chariots with a gold-handled broom and sprinkles sandal wood water and powder with utmost devotion.

The chariots of the deities are newly constructed every year. New materials including wood are used in construction. However, the model, structure, design and dimensions of the chariots remain invariable. Four wooden horses are attached to the front of each chariot.

Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and their sister Subhadra – the three deities of the Jagannath Temple – travel in three different chariots. That is why RathaYatra is also called the Festival of Chariots. Their chariots are named Nandighosha, Taladhwaja and Devadalana  respectively.

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Nandighosha Rath: This Chariot is of Lord Jagannath. It is a towering mammoth creation almost like a skyscraper of 45ft high and having sixteen wheels. The texture of the rooftop is in Red and Yellow shading.

Taladhwaja Rath: This chariot is of Lord Balabhadra. The tallness of this chariot is of 44ft high and is a huge artistic creation but slightly smaller in size to that of Lord Jagannath and comprises of fourteen wheels. The texture shade of the rooftop is Red and Green. Tala natural product is set over the chariot.

Devadalana Rath:   This is Goddess Subhadra’s chariot. It is 43ft in tallness and a towering creation but smaller than the other two and it comprise of twelve wheels. The texture of rooftop is in Red and Black shading.

The top of the chariots of Lord Jagannath and other two deities resembles the structure of a Hindu temple. The chariots are pulled with ropes by hundreds of devotees and pilgrims, which makes an inspirational spectacle of devotion and enthusiasm.

The Lord Jagannath, along with his elder brother, Balabhadra and sister Subhadra, climb atop their chariots, brightly decorated and extravagantly decked up to go to their aunt’s place. It’s said that it definitely drizzles on RathYatra day, which reminds the lord of his childhood days at his aunt’s place. The nostalgia becomes unbearable and he sets off on a journey to Gundicha.

Thousands of devotees pull the chariots to their destination, to the Gundicha Temple, where they stay for nine days. The Lords reach Gundicha, and they enter their new sanctum sanctorum for the next eight days. Thereafter, the deities again ride the chariots back to Shri Mandir in Bahuda Yatra. On the way back, the three chariots halt at the Mausi Maa Temple and the deities are offered PodaPitha, a kind of baked cake which is generally consumed by the people of Odisha.

It is said that Laxmi denies him entry into the temple for having deserted her without intimation. After a lot of cajoling and offering of rasagullas, he is allowed entry. But before that, all the three deities deck up into what they call the SonaBesha. All the deities are laced with tonnes of gold before they enter the temple. This sight attracts millions of devotees.

The pulling of the divine chariot by congregations of devotees signifies the united force of human beings.It is a time of joy, feasting, merrymaking and devotion. The air is filled with festivity and peace is in the hearts of men. This festival is an example of the unity in diversity in our incredible India.

 .(The views expressed are the writer’s own)

Samikshya Nayak, Pursuing MBBS at Hitech Medical College and Hospital , Rourkela

You can reach her at: [email protected]

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