Interesting facts about Puri Jagannath temple 'Rath Yatra'

Puri Jagannath rath yatra. colorful rathas(chariots) Odisa.
Sri Jagannath being an incarnation of  lord Vishnu and Sri Krishna, many of the rituals performed here in Puri temple,  are closely linked with various episodes in the life of Sri Krishna. Hence this annual Car Festival, symbolic of  Sri Krishna's Journey from Gokulam  to Mathura,  is an important religious event in the state of  Odisa (Orissa) and about a million people attend the long-drawn  annual festival that is celebrated with gaiety and fanfare without lacking reverence.

The following are some of the facts of this famous Rath Yatra (procession of chariot):

.. The Rath Yatra is believed to be more than a few thousand years old.The oldest one in India.

.. During the festival, the wooden idols (made of Neem wood) of Jagannath (Sri Krishna), his brother Balrama and  sister Subhadra are taken out in a religious procession in three  tastefully decorated big chariots to their summer temple for a week long retreat, rest and relaxation. 

..The chariot of Lord Jagannath called Nandighosa is 45.6 feet tall, has 18 big wheels and weighs  65 tons. Garuda on the crest along with four white wooden horses are the specific features.  

.. Balabhadra’s chariot known as Taladhvaja is 45 feet tall with 16 wheels and is drawn  by four black wooden horses. It carries Hanuman on its crest.
Puri temple.  jangannath, Balarama and goddess Subadra.
.. The chariot of Subhadra's  referred to  as Devadalana is  44.6 feet tall, has 14 wheels and is driven  by four red wooden horses. This chariot has lotus flower on the crest.

.. The Chariots are then taken to the Shri Gundicha Temple to their aunt’s house where the deities enjoy  nine days stay and are served sweet eatables. This journey covers roughly 3 kilometers

.. The actual construction of the carts, wheels, etc begins two months before the festival day, on the third day of the bright fortnight of Vaisakha (April-May) and the incomplete  chariots are kept ready. A few weeks  before the festival, final work on the chariots will be undertaken.

.. Carpenters begin their work on the chariots  on the Akshaya Tritiya day.
construction of a chariot, puri jagannath temple.
..In order to differentiate the chariots, they  are painted with bright colors and the tops are covered with red, black, yellow, or green canopies. Red and yellow colors  mark Lord Jagannath's ratha, red and green that of Lord Balarama and red and black that of goddess  Subhadra.  Besides, they have  have separate features to distinguish one chariot from the other.

.. Unlike other rathas in many temples, here every year new rathas are  built, using more than 600 trees, or 400 cubic meters of wood,  available in the wooded areas along the banks of the Mahanadi River.

.. The huge chariots are pulled by devotees  with dedication and devotion. In the bygone years devotees, in devotional ecstasy, would throw themselves before the chariot of Jagannath in order to be crushed by all 16 wheels in the belief that they would get salvation (free from rebirth and cycle of birth and death) and head straight to heaven!!

.. Chhera Pahara is the most famous ritual associated with the Rath Yatra and this type of ritual is not followed elsewhere in India as far as I know. The Gajapati King does the  sweeping all around the deities and chariots, the place where the chariots move and stop. He then cleanses the road with a broom (gold-handled) and sprinkles sandalwood water and powder. He does this service to the lord of the universe in humility, despite being from a family of rulers. To lord Jagannath, both the rich and the poor, the literate and the illiterate, et al are the same and equal.

.. Chera Pahara is held on two days, on the first day of the Ratha Yatra, 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.

.. The return journey of Lords is also celebrated as Bahuda yatra. and  three deities reach the Puri temple on  the Ekadasi dy. Now they wear new costumes and this new form of the idols is called as ‘Suna Vesa’.   

Rath Yatra or Jatra, actually is a joyous occasion and it  marks the celebration of the Lord Jagannath's  journey to his aunt's house. The remarkable aspect of this rathotshavam is it transcends the other aspects of Hinduism and one can see the confluence of Vaishnavaism, Saivism, Shaktism, Buddhism and Jainism.