Ratha Yatra

Ratha Yatra or Chariot Festiva is a Hindu festival that is celebrated at famous Jagannatha temple in Puri every year.

Updated: October 11, 2019


Ratha Yatra or Chariot Festiva is a Hindu festival that is celebrated at famous Jagannatha temple in Puri every year. Ratha Yatra day is decided based on Hindu Lunar calendar. It is fixed on Dwitiya Tithi during Shukla Paksha of Ashada month. In Gregorian calendar it falls in month of June or July. In city of Puri, Lord Jagannatha is worshipped at famous Jagannatha temple who is considered as a form of Lord Vishnu and also revered by the followers of Vaishnavism.

Significance of Ratha Yatra:

Jagannatha temple is one of the four Hindu pilgrimage centers known as Char Dham pilgrimages. A Hindu is expected to make this Char Dham pilgrimages in his/her lifetime. Jagannatha literally means Lord of the Universe. Lord Jagannatha is worshipped along with his brother Balabhadra and his sister Devi Subhadra in Puri temple. All these deities with the celestial wheel (Sudarshana Chakra) are removed from the temple in a ceremonial procession to their chariots.
Ratha Yatra is a annual visit of Lord Jagannatha to Gundicha Maa temple which is situated at a distance of 2 km from their temple. In this festival, three richly decorated chariots one for each diety that resembles temple structures are pulled by the devotee through the streets of Puri called Badadanda. This is the only day when devotees who are not allowed in the temple premises, such as non-Hindus and foreigners, can get a glimpse of these deities.

Stories Behind Ratha Yatra:

The longing of Jagannatha to reunite with his dear devotees in Vrindavana is celebrated as Ratha yatra. Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who is considered as the combined incarnation of Radha-Krishna, encouraged all of His followers to celebrate Ratha-yatra with great enthusiasm five hundred years ago. It is said that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu got down on His hands and knees to scrub the Gundicha temple where Lord Jagannatha would stay after the Ratha-yatra parade. Srila Prabhupada, the founder of the Hare Krishna movement began celebrating Ratha-yatra when he was five years old, using a small home-made cart and pulling it around the neighborhood with his friends. From 1967 until his passing, Srila Prabhupada joined thousands of disciples in cities around the world as they celebrated elaborate Ratha-yatra chariot festivals in the streets of London, Paris, Sydney, Tokyo, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and on New York's prestigious Fifth Avenue. Ratha-yatra signifies the Lord’s love for His devotees. The Lord personally comes to visit His devotees and the public who welcome Him in the streets.

About Deities:

The images of three deities in Jagannath temple are not made of metal or stone, but of wood and cloth and resin. They are replaced from time to time, leading to rituals in which they fall sick, die and are reborn. The story behind the images being malformed, with no hands or feet, and heads is that when the image was being carved, the artisan had requested the patron king not to open the door until the work on the idols was completed. But as the king did not hear sounds of the wood being carved and polished, he opened the door of the workshop and thus, the idol were left incomplete. The deities are decorated with over 208 kg gold to complete their remaining limbs during the festival.

Rituals before Ratha Yatra:

Every year during the month of June and July when the summer is at its height, the deities couldn't bear the heat inside the temple and step out to bathe in public with 108 pots of water under the blazing sun. The ritual is called Snana Purnima. For the fortnight that follows, all the deities fall sick and are kept in a recovery chamber called anasar ghar. When they recover, their appetite returns and they wish to eat the food cooked by their aunt Gundicha, whose house is 3km away from his temple. Thus all of them step out of the temple on his grand chariot and makes his way there which starts the celebration of Ratha Yatra.

Celebration of Ratha Yatra:

The journey (jatra) of the chariots (ratha) is known as Ratha Yatra. It is also known as Shri Gundicha jatra. The festival involves pulling of three richly decorated chariots one for each diety that resembles temple structures. The Rathas are huge wheeled wooden structures, which are built anew every year and are pulled by the devotees. The chariots are built new each year only from a particular type of tree which are approximately 45 feet (14 m) high. The chariot of Lord Jagannatha is called Nandighosa. The chariot of Lord Balarama, called the Taladhwaja and of Subhadra, known as Dwarpadalana. Nandighosh has sixteen wheels and the color of the fabrics that cover the roof of the chariot are red and yellow. Taladhwaja has fourteen wheels and the colours of the fabrics are red and green. Devadalana has twelve wheels and fabrics are red and black.
Sudarshan is seated by the side of Subhadra in her chariot. An idol of Madanmohan, a representative deity of Jagannath sits in the chariot of Lord Jagannath. Two other small idols of Rama and Krishna are placed in the chariot of Balabhadra. These small idols are made of metal. Thus actually seven deities namely Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra, Sudarshana, Madanmohan, Rama and Krishna are seated on three chariots and moved to a temple known as 'Gundicha Ghar' which is at a distance of about 3 kms from Jagannath Temple. The chariot of Balabhadra is dragged first, followed by those of Subhadra and Jagannath.
It takes about two months to construct the chariots. The artists and painters of Puri decorate the chariots in bright colours with religious motifs. The chariot of Jagannath is the etymological origin of the English word 'juggernaut'.
Devotees from all over the world comes to Puri to help pulling the three chariots with ropes. The huge processions accompanying the chariots play devotional songs with drums, tambourines, trumpets etc.
Gundicha Temple is cleaned by devotees of Lord Jagannatha one day before of Ratha Yatra. The ritual of cleaning Gundicha temple is known as Gundicha Marjana. The fourth day after Ratha Yatra is celebrated as Hera Panchami when Goddess Lakshmi, the wife of Lord Jagannatha, visits Gundicha temple in search of Lord Jagannatha.  Lord Jagannatha returns to his main abode after resting eight days in Gundicha temple. On the eighth day after Ratha Yatra on Dashami Tithi, Bahuda Yatra or Return Yatra is observed. During Bahuda Yatra Lord makes a short stoppage at Mausi Maa temple which is dedicated to Goddess Ardhashini and have an offering of the Poda Pitha, which is a special type of pancake supposed to be the favourite of Lord Jaganath. Ratha Yatra is also known as Puri Car Festival among foreign visitors. 

Rituals:

Chhera pahara is most significant ritual associated with the Ratha-jatra. The Gajapati King sweeps all around the deities and chariots in the Chera Pahara (sweeping with water) ritual during this festival. The Gajapati King cleanses the road before the chariots with a gold-handled broom and sprinkles sandalwood water and powder. Although the Gajapati King has been considered the most exalted person in the Kalingan kingdom, he still renders the menial service to Jagannath. This ritual signified that under the lordship of Jagannath, there is no distinction between the powerful sovereign Gajapati King and the most humble devotee. Chera pahara is held on two days. On the first day of the Ratha Jatra, when the deities are taken to garden house at Mausi Maa Temple and again on the last day of the festival, when the deities are ceremoniously brought back to the Shri Mandir.
When the deities are taken out from the Shri Mandir to the Chariots, the ritual is called as Pahandi Vijay. The three deities are taken from the Jagannath Temple in the chariots to the Gundicha Temple, where they stay for nine days.
In the evening of the lOth day i.e. the 11th day of the bright fortnight of Asadha, the deities are adorned with gold ornaments and dressed gorgeously in their respective chatiots parked in the Simhadwar area. Another ritual called 'Hari Sayan Ekadasi' is performed on the same day.
On the following day i.e. the 12th day of the bright fortnight, important ceremony known as' Adharapana Bhog' is performed in which a sweet drink is offered to the deities. On the evening of the following day, the deities are taken to the temple in a traditional procession amidst gathering of thousands of devotees.

Nabakalebara:

Nabakalebara is a symbolic recreation of the wooden forms of four Hindu deities Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra, and Sudarshana at Jagannath Temple that happens once every 9 to 19 years. When the month of Ashadha is followed by another month of Ashadha known as 'double-Ashadha', special Nabakalebar ritual takes place. Nabakalebara is when the wooden temple idols are replaced with new ones which mean 'new body'. In the last century, the ritual was performed in 1912, 1931, 1950, 1969, 1977, 1996, and 2015. Nabakalebara is a combination of two Odia words: naba (new) and kalebara (body), translated as "the change of one's physical form."
Since the deity is dark, the neem tree from which his image is carved should be dark also. The trees used for the images of his brother and sister are lighter in color, since his siblings are fair in complexion. The tree that is chosen for jagannatha must have four principal branches, symbolizing the four arms of Narayana. No branches are broken or cut. The tree must be located near a three-way intersection or surrounded by three mountains. A hermitage and a temple to Shiva must be nearby, and natural impressions of a conch-shell and chakra (wheel) must be on the trunk. Sections are selected for carving after the tree is felled and the remainder is buried. The location is then considered sacred. The logs are placed in a wooden six-wheeled oxcart and transported to the temple, where they are kept in the koili vaikuntha. Koili means "burial ground", and vaikuntha means "heaven". The old deities are buried, and the new ones made. After the transfer of essence, the old images are considered lifeless. Carving of the images are done in secret for 21 days, and not even the temple's head priest is allowed to visit the workplace. After the new deities are made they are brought into the temple's inner sanctum, and are placed in front of the old ones facing them. No puja is performed during this time, and no food is offered. The images are life-sized, and very heavy. The transformation ceremony takes place three days before the chariot festival. The old deities are carried out at midnight and buried in the koili vaikuntha before dawn. On the morning of the second day, the new deities are seated on the altar. The temple's daily routine resumes after nearly 58 days of the search and carving periods.

Ratha Yatra In Different Region:

International Jagannath Ratha Jatra:

The Ratha Jatra festival has become worldwide since 1968 through the Hare Krishna movement. It is now celebrated in all major cities including London, Paris, Sydney, Tokyo, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and on New York's prestigious Fifth Avenue.

Dhamrai Jagannath Roth festival:

The Roth Jatra in Dhamrai is one of the most important events for the Hindu community of Bangladesh. Dhamrai Jagannath Rath is a chariot temple, a Roth, dedicated to the Hindu God Jagannath located in Dhamrai, Bangladesh.The original historical Roth was burnt down by the Pakistan Army in 1971 and the Roth has since been rebuilt with Indian assistance.

Ratha Jatra of Mahesh:

The Ratha Yatra of Mahesh is the second oldest chariot festival in India after Rath Yatra at Puri and oldest in Bengal. It is been celebrated since 1396 CE. It is a month-long festival held at Mahesh in Serampore of West Bengal and a grand fair is held at that time. People throng to have a share in pulling the long ropes attached to the chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balarama and Subhadra on the journey from the temple to Gundicha Bari (Masir bari) and back.

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