Tantalizing Jagannath Rath Yatra, Puri. - a grand annual chariot festival of 2019

India is a land of not only religious festivals but also certain temple festivals unique to the respective temples and states. For example  in Tamil Nadu during Vaikuntha Ekadasi festival Srirangam Ranganathar temple comes alive. So is  Meenakshi temple of Madurai during the Meenakshi- Sundarar Thiru kalyanam festivities. In the case of Kerala, Vadakkunnathan temple, Thrissur comes to our mind where Puram festival is  held on a grand scale every year.

Puri Jagannath rath yatra. andhrawatch.com
One of the most exciting temple festivals in India is the Jagannath Rath Yatra held  every year at the holy town of Puri, Odisha. It is held either in June or July every year and this year it was  held on 4th July 2019. This place  is considered  a part of the Char Dham pilgrimage. It is believed that those who actively participate in this colorful festival are assured of salvation - meaning no rebirth. More than a million plus devotees  from other states of India and also from abroad attend this long-drawn festival. 

Lord Jagannath temple, Puri, Odisha. booking.com
What is so special about this rath yatra? This festival marks the annual visit of Lord Jagannath with his elder brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra to Gundicha Temple via his maternal aunt’s home (Mausi Maa Temple) located near Balagandi Chaka in Puri. Hence in the rath yatra there are three chariots each carrying the idol of  Lord Jagannath, Lord Balarama and Devi. The unique feature is every year new chariots are made for this purpose and they are not used again.  The long journey  consisting of three well decorated chariots starts from the Jagannath Temple - main doorway Singhdwara (the Lion’s Gate) and ends at Gundicha Temple. Here, the rathas will stay for nine days and daily puja rituals are held as usual. On completion of 9 days, the return yatra   to the main temple called  'Bahuda Yatra' takes place.  The first chariot to leave the temple is Lord Balabhadra. Then, Lord Subhadra and Lord Jagannath follows.

Among the rituals associated with rath yatra, the fascinating one is Chera Pahara. Gajapati King (ruler of this land) with a golden-handled broom will clean the street - path of the rath yathra. It implies the ruler is a humble servant to the lord.  Pahandi Vijay ritual is about installation of the small idols on the Chariots.
During the festival certain rituals are held such as  Brahma Paribartan (changing of soul): creation of new wooden idols and destruction of old ones. Only neem wood is selected for this purpose. Vedic mantras are chanted while making the idols. Then they are taken inside the sanctum  where old idols are kept face to face with the new ones and this is done in the midst of mantras, implying transfer of power  and sanctity from the old ones to the new. This is done in privacy with the idols wrapped in clothes. Koili Baikuntha Burial: This  ritual involves installation of new idols on the throne and  removal of old ones. The latter are taken to  Koili Baikuntha Burial where they will be buried by the temple priests only. Others are not allowed to witness it. 
Ritual Bath (Snana Yatra): The idols will be given a ritual bath 18 days before the festival on the full moon day  of Jyeshtha month. They use 108 pitchers of fresh water to bathe the idols. After the bath the idols are kept in a separate place away from public until the Ratha Yatra festival.

Three wooden idols of Jagannath and others hindi.webdunia.com

Once the yatra is over, the idols will be placed inside the sanctum reverentially with chanting of mantras by the priests.  The important aspect of this rath yatra is the participation of devotees  \with  utter devotion, dedication and total involvement in this unique festival. Their spiritual ecstasy and peace of mind  that they derive out of this grand festival  get our attention. Self contentment is the soul of life. The rath Yatra at Puri offers this wonderful experience.