The Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra, which is considered one of India's biggest chariot festivals is set to commence from June 23 this year. To mark the celebrations, the chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra would be pulled on the Grand Road from the Jagannath temple to Gundicha temple over a distance of 2.5 kms. Every year, lakhs of devotees throng to the coastal town of Puri to catch the glimpse of deities re-embodied after 19 years on chariots on the occasion of Rath Yatra, marking largest-ever religious congregation in Odisha.
For this year's celebrations of the Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra, the Odisha government has been directed to deploy heavy-duty machinery or elephants to pull the chariots. The decision comes in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and to prevent the gathering of people.
Meanwhile, the preparations for Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra have begun on Odisha. Pictures of architects building up the chariot, as shared by a servitor at Puri Jagannath temple serve as an example of the festival's traditional relevance.
Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra: The Relevance
Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra commemorates Jagannath's annual visit to Gundicha Temple via Mausi Maa Temple (maternal aunt's home) near Saradha Bali, Puri. As part of Ratha Yatra, the deities Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Lord Balabhadra and younger sister Devi Subhadra, along with Sudarshan, are taken out in a procession out of the main shrine of Jagannath Temple and placed in the Ratha (Chariot) which are ready in front of the Temple. This process is called as 'Pahandi'. The procession starts with 'Madan Mohan' then 'Sudarshana' Balabhadra, Subhadra, and Jagannath Deva.
Later, Gajapati Maharaja, the king of Puri, who is also known as the first servitor of the Lords, does 'Chhera Pahanra' (the holy cleaning of the chariots). Finally, the devotees pull the chariots up to the Gundicha Temple, which is also known as the birthplace of the Lords.
Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra: The Chariots
Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra involves three chariots - chariots of Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagannatha. Architects construct these chariots every year using wood of specified trees. The logs are traditionally set afloat as rafts in the river Mahanadi. These are collected near Puri and then transported by road. The three wooden chariots of the three deities are quite heavy as they are made out of over 13,000 cubic ft timber. Thousands of devotees pull the chariots with sturdy ropes tied around.
The chariots are decorated as per the unique scheme prescribed and followed for centuries stand on the Bada Danda, the Grand Avenue. Covered with bright canopies made of stripes of red cloth and combined with those of black, yellow and green colours, the huge chariots are lined across the wide avenue in front of the majestic temple close to its eastern entrance, which is also known as the Sinhadwara or the Lion's Gate.
Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra: The Celebrations
During the annual Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra, devotees from all across the world throng to Puri with an earnest desire to help pull the Lords' chariots. They consider this an auspicious act. The huge processions accompanying the chariots play devotional songs with drums, sounding plates of bell metal, cymbals, etc.
The Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra is also broadcast live on many Indian, foreign television channels, while a number of websites telecast Jagannath Ratha Jatra live.