Are you planning to visit Puri during the Jagannath Puri Ratha Yatra in 2020? Read on for the complete know-how and essentials surrounding the festival.
Lord Jagannath is considered to be a form of Lord Vishnu. Jagannath Temple in Puri is one among the four holiest pilgrimage sites in India. Famous all over the world for its annual Chariot Festival, also known as Ratha Yatra or Gundicha Yatra, the event attracts more than 1 million pilgrims every year. Symbolizing equality and togetherness, the festival is the only occasion when non-Hindu devotees who are not allowed inside the temple, can catch a glimpse of Lord Jagannath and his siblings Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra (popularly referred to as the Holy Trinity) as they begin their 9 day journey from Jagannath Temple to the Gundicha Temple. Devotees eagerly wait for this time of the year as the sight of the deities is considered immensely auspicious.
When is the festival celebrated?
The dates for the Ratha Yatra are based around the traditional Odia calendar, falling on Ashadha Shukla Paksha Dwitiya which is the second day in the bright fortnight of Ashadha month. Ratha Yatra 2020 is slated to fall on 23rd June.
Where is the festival celebrated?
The festival is celebrated in Puri, Orissa. The holy trinity of Jagannath Temple begin their nine day journey from Jagannath Temple to Gundicha Temple via Mausi Maa Temple near Saradha Bali in Puri.
How is the festival celebrated?
The Ratha Yatra festival commences by taking the deities of Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Lord Balabhadra and younger sister Devi Subhadra, out in a procession and placing them on their respective chariots, ready in front of the temple. This is called Pahandi. The three deities have three different chariots, which is why the festival is also known as the Festival of Chariots. Lord Jagannath’s chariot Nandighosa has 18 wheels, Lord Balabhadra’s chariot Taladhwaja has 16 wheels and Devi Subhadra’s chariot Devadalana has 14 wheels. Each of the chariots is built to resemble temples, and every year, new chariots are built.
The deities travel on their chariots to Gundicha Temple where they stay there for 7 days before beginning their return journey, via Mausi Maa Temple, the abode of Lord Jagannath’s aunt. Every 12 year, the idols of the Holy Trinity are replaced by new ones.
Ratha Yatra – The journey & rituals
The nine days of Ratha Yatra are preceded by many rituals and ceremonies to mark the beginning of the festival. The festival begins with the performance of Mangal Arti where devotional songs are chanted at the temple to invoke the Lord’s blessings. About 18 days before the festival officially commences, the three idols are bathed with 108 pitchers of aromatic water. This ritual is known as Snana Yatra, and takes place on the full moon in the Hindu lunar month of Jyestha. It is said that the deities fall sick after this bath which is why they are kept in a secret altar for two weeks, until the day of the procession. This period of healing is known as Anavasara.
The day of the deities’ public appearance is known as Navajouban Darshan, and it happens during the time of Ashadha Amavasya, or the new moon in Ashadha. Orissa’s royal successor i.e. the king of Puri, who is the first servitor of the Lords, performs the Chhera Pehenra which is the ceremonial sweeping of the chariots, after which he carries the deities and positions them on their respective chariots. At this time, the deities are offered ’khechudi bhog’ and adorned in ‘Gaja besha’.
Finally, the moment for ‘Sahan Mela’ arrives when devotees catch a glimpse of the deities and begin pulling the chariots from the main Jagannath Temple up to the Gundicha Temple. This marks the beginning of the journey, also known as Sri Gundicha. It is said that to honour the devotion of Queen Gundicha, wife of the legendary King Indradyumna who built the Jagannath Temple, the holy trinity of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra leave their regular abode to spend a few days in the Gundicha Temple.
After their stay at Gundicha Temple, the deities are brought back to the main temple, the ritual of which is called Bahuda Yatra. This is observed on the eighth day after Ratha Yatra. Upon their return, the deities are adorned in gold jewellery. According to Hindu tradition and beliefs, it is important to observe the ritual of ‘Adhara Pana’ on this day. It is believed that invisible spirits and souls would have visited the celestial event of the lords, hence sweet drinks must be offered to them. Finally, with the culmination of this, the deities are placed back inside the main shrine, and this final ritual is known as Niladri Bijaya.
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What is the essence of the festival?
During the Jagannath Rath Yatra, the city of Puri comes alive differently. There is joy, community and togetherness, as devotees join hands and seek blessings from the Holy Trinity. The Grand Road or Bada Danda Road of Puri experiences great spiritual fervor at this time, when humanity takes precedence over everything else. While traditionally none other than Hindus are allowed to enter the temple, during this festival, anyone of any caste or religion can witness the great Lord and seek his blessings. A spectacular sight to behold, this festival holds much cultural, religious and social significance.