Puri Jagannath temple Rath Yatra 2023 of Puri, Odisha - a unique chariot festival

The most exciting and colorful chariot festival takes place annually at Puri Jagannath temple (12th-century stone temple), Odisha and it is  considered as the grandest rath yatra in India, drawing the largest number of devotees. It is more colorful and conventional than those of Tamil Nadu, where almost every historical temple of great antiquity celebrates the annual Therottam - chariot run with devotion. This year the mind-boggling rath yatra at Puri took place on the 20th of this month, a couple of days ago  with great fanfare and religious fervor.

Puri rath yatra, indiatimes.com

The unique aspect of this  annual rath yatra is every year the chariots are made afresh by traditional carpenters with no formal training. Many of them have not even attended school. Nor do they have a standard manual as a guide. No architectural drawings or modern machines to help them, but the carpenters make giant chariots manually,relying only on the  traditional knowledge and skill, according to the caretaker of the chariots.

In the Hindu month of Ashadha the Puri Rath Yatra begins on the Dwitiya Tithi(second day) Shukla Paksha (waxing phase of the Moon).  According to Gregorian calendar, it falls in the month of June or July. The major puja rituals are as follows:

Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra, 2023ndiatimes.com

June 27 of June 2023: Sandhya Darshan or Navami Darshan or Adap Mandap Darshan. An auspicious occasion during which the devotees can see and pray all the deities.

July 29 of June 2023:Sunabesa (The period during which all the three deities reside back in the Jagannath temple). 

July 1, 2023 (Saturday): Niladri BJ, a special ritual performed by the end of the Jagannath Yatra.

Despite intense heat and humidity, driven by bhakti, roughly 10 lakh people, a staggering number on 20th June 2023 descended on the  crowded Grand Road, to witness the richly decorated rathas carrying sibling deities - Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and goddess Devi Subhadra to Gundicha Temple, their birth place, being an alternate temporary abode during the festivities.

Puri Rath Yatra ndiatimes.com/

Before the start of the rath yatra Divya Singha Deb,the titular ruler of Puri Gajapati Maharaja  on Tuesday ritualistically swept the chariots of Lord Jagannath and his two siblings, centuries old ritualistic tradition. On each chariot he reverentially swept the floor using a broom with a golden handle, while  priests sprinkled flowers and fragrant water.  He first offered prayers to Lord Balabhadra's chariot 'Taladhwaj', then Lord Jagannath's 'Nadighosh' and finally Devi Subhadra's 'Darpadalan'

Nearly 45 foot tall wooden chariots of Lords Jagannath and Balabhadra and goddess Subhadra  were pulled all along the main street by thousands of bare-chested men  while lakhs of devotees were witnessing the event. 'Pahandi,'ratha pratistha,'etc., rituals   associated  with Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra  are conducted by  priests and devotees.

Near the main temple for the ardent devotees nothing is more captivating and soul-stirring than watching the deities coming out of the main temple for their brief sojourn at Gundicha in the midst of euphoric chants of the lord of the universe. The festive mood reaches crescendo when the divinity is on the move in the midst of a sea of devotees. For the police it is a tough job to handle a massive surge of people that may trigger stampedes. In the jostling crowd 14 people were injured during the pulling of Lord Balabhadra's  Taladwaj chariot when it reached Marichikote Chhak; apart more than 80 people fainted due to overcrowding.

In Ahmedabad, Gujarat the 146th Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath took place with devotion and it was witnessed by lakhs of people. Nearly 26,000 security personnel were on duty when the grand procession moved along  the 18-km route. The Gujarat police diligently used  for the first time in the Rath Yatra 3D mapping technology to monitor the entire route and also deployed anti-drone technology to ensure addition safety and to avoid unauthorised drones during the event.This rath yatra in Gujarat is the second largest one, next to Puri. 

At Puri, VIPs who pulled the chariots this year included CM Naveen Patnaik, governor Ganeshi Lal, Chief Justice of Orissa high court S Muralidhar and Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan. Rath yatra also took place in Kolkata, WB, Bhavnagar, GJ and other places.