Fascinating Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra, 2017

Among the temple chariot festivals of India, the most spectacular and popular one is the annual Puri Jagannath Rath Yara.  Also known as Rathjatra or Chariot festival, this colourful rath yatra is celebrated every year in the month of June or July with religious fervour and is attended by a massive crowds hailing from different parts of India.  The venue of this festival is temple town Puri, Odisha. Traditionally, this rath yathra is believed to be the oldest of its kind and it  marks the return of Lord Krishna to Vrindavan with his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra. 


Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra, 2017 indianexpress.com

The rath yatra is a long procession / journey of  three deities in three different chariots accompanied by the thousands of devotees;  Lord Jagannath, his brother Lord Balabhadra and  their sister Devi Subhadra riding three giant wooden chariots which are pulled by devotees on the Bada Danda (3 km stretch - Grand Road) as they travel to Gundicha temple where the procession ends. Here, the deities stay for nine long days and there will be daily pujas and rituals. After the nine-day stay, they ride the chariots with the deities back to Shri Mandir. This year, the festival was held  on June 25 and the return car  festival or Bahuda Jatra took place on  July 3 (the festival is normally celebrated on the 2nd day of the Shukla Paksha, Ashadh month according to the traditional Oriya Calendar).

Deities Jagannath, Balabadra and Devi Subadra. Ganesha Speaks

Taking into account the “body to be the chariot” and “the soul of the deity to be instilled inside it”, the concept of chariot festival is expounded in Kathopanishad in Sanskrit as:

'Atmanam rathinam viddhi sareeram rathamevatu,
Buddhim tu saarathim viddhi marah pragrahameva cha!"

The 'pahandi' (The journey of the deities to the world outside, starts with an elaborate royal ritual called Pahandi - literally, going forward in a step by step movement to the accompaniment of several devotees beating the ghanta, kahali and telingi baja) of the deities began around 10.30 am, when the three gods along with Lord Sudarsana were taken out in a procession to their respective chariots  kept  in front of the temple as the entire street - Bada Danda  celebrated it  with the sounds of ghanta (cymbals), kahali (type of flute), mahuri (a double reeded instrument), pakhauja (a variant of south Indian mridangam), mardal (similar to pakhawaj) and bells.. It was a joyous event marked by devotion and bakthi. The three wooden chariots are made afresh annually and dismantled after the rath yathra.

Once the the deities were placed on their respective chariots, Puri King Gajapati Divyasingh Dev performed  the traditional 'chhera panhara'. The king was supposed to sweep the path  in front of the deities, a humble service to the lords of the universe. The Puri king himself is the servant of God Jagannath. Then the pulling of chariots began and  from here it was a three kilometer long arduous, but colorful  journey to Gundicha temple. 

chhera panhara is the second phase of the rath yathra  in which  the Raja, King of Puri, Gajapati Divya Singha Deva is informed of the deities having taken their respecive places on the chariots through a messenger specially deputed by the temple officials. Then the young, King, ceremoniously dressed  is taken in a silver plated palanquin  from his palace and he comes in a small procession on  Bada Danda led by a caparisoned elephant. He climbs the chariots one by one. and offers his prayers to the deity. He then cleans the platforms with a golden broom, sprinkling flowers and fragrant water on the surface of the chariot.