Rath Yatra Of Puri: Where Mysteries & Legends Thrive
Rath Yatra Of Puri: Where Mysteries & Legends Thrive
As soon as the monsoon clouds reign heavy on the eastern coast of India, the beach town of Puri turns into a gigantic campsite. Foreign tourists, backpackers and Indian pilgrims make their way to this holy city every July to witness the legendary Jagannath Rath Yatra.
This vibrant festival is a deeply sensorial experience for most, with people from all across the world chanting, singing and dancing in unison, while waiting for the three chariots to emerge from the Jagannath Temple. This year, the Rath Yatra is being observed from 6th July till 15th July in Puri.
Rath Yatra & Its Importance For People
This festival is a celebration of the journey of Lord Jagannath, an incarnation of Vishnu, along with his siblings, Balabhadra and Subhadra, in three majestic chariots from the Jagannath Temple to the Gundicha Mandir, considered their aunt’s home, located three kilometres away. Millions of devotees join in the procession, accompanying the deities to the garden palace, where they holiday for a week. While on regular days, only Hindus are allowed into the Jagannath Temple, this festival allows pilgrims — men and women of all caste, creed and religion — to shower their devotion on the deities without any socio-religious barrier.
After a stay at the garden palace, the deities wind their way back to the temple in yet another significant journey known as the Bahudha Yatra or the Ulta Ratha.
Any kind of participation in the Rath Yatra is considered a pious act and people jostle within the crowd to be able to pull and push the chariots. Even the act of touching the chariots and ropes is considered auspicious. Fights have been known to erupt in the past, with some people even getting crushed under the chariots. It’s no wonder then that this frenzied procession gave rise to the English word “juggernaut” meaning a powerful and overwhelming force. Countless police teams, dog squads, bomb disposal teams, paramedical staff and volunteers are deployed to ensure that no mishaps take place.
Of Myths & Legends
Like most festivals in India, the Rath Yatra too is centred around the victory of good over evil and return of the epic heroes to their home. The most popular legend behind the Jagannath Rath Yatra revolves around the conquest of Lord Krishna over his uncle, King Kamsa. The story starts with Kamsa inviting Krishna and his brother, Balaram, to Mathura and sending a chariot for them. The Rath Yatra symbolises Krishna’s journey to root out evil and establish peace. Some people also believe that it was on this day that Krishna and Balaram returned home after vanquishing Kamsa and, hence, this festival celebrates return of the heroes.
Craftsmen Work Their Magic On The Chariots
The raths or chariots, from which the festival derives its names, are intricate works of art. These 45-feet-high wooden chariots are created over two months by craftsmen, who begin their work on the auspicious day of Akshaya Tritiya. It’s amazing that the craftsmen solely rely on hand span for measurement and draw on the oral knowledge passed on by their ancestors. Each of the three chariots has a name: while Lord Jagannath’s chariot is called Nandighosha, Balaram’s rath is known as Taladhwaja and Subhadra’s as Devadalana. It’s usually her chariot that leads the way, followed by Taladhwaja, with Nandighosha making an appearance at the end.
The first service to the Rath Yatra is usually done by the Gajapati or King of Puri, who sweeps the floor of the chariot. It carries a message that no task is too exalted or too menial in the eyes of God.
The Nabakalebara Ritual- Cause Perfection Lies In Details
Every nineteen years, the old idols are replaced with new ones in a ceremony called nabakalebara. This “renewal of form” is no ordinary matter as people search high and low for the neem tree or daru, which can be used to make the deities. There are some conditions that the wood log needs to fulfill in order to be used in this auspicious ceremony: for the making of Lord Jagannath’s idol, the daru should have four branches, the bark should be dark in colour and the tree should have a sign of a conch shell and chakra. Similarly for Balaram’s idol, the daru should have seven branches, the bark should be light brown or white and it should feature a symbol of plough and pestle. There are several other guidelines that need to be fulfilled: there should be an anthill near the tree and a snakehole in the roots of the tree, it should be located at the crossing of three ways or be surrounded by three mountains, et cetera. There is a deep message in this ceremony: that death is inevitable and that renewal of form and spirit is part of a universal truth. The last nabakalebara ceremony took place in 2015.
A Divine Feast In The Largest Kitchen
According to a popular legend, Lord Vishnu divides his day between four places on earth. He bathes at Rameshwaram, meditates at Badrinath, dines at Puri and sleeps at Dwarka. It is no wonder then that the kitchen at Jagannath Temple, perhaps, one of the largest in the world, prides itself on creating a feast fit for Gods. According to a comprehensive documentary on the yatra, “The Legend of Jagannath”, which aired on National Geographic Channel recently, 1,000 pots are used just once by 600 cooks in the preparation of 56 dishes, or chhappan bhog, on wood-fired traditional stoves. These are then offered to the deity and later distributed as mahaprasad. During the Rath Yatra festival, food from this kitchen feeds nearly 10,000 people daily. What’s amazing to note, the documentary states, is that the same quantity of food is cooked everyday, but the number of devotees are not the same everyday. And yet, there is never any shortage or wastage.
Heard Of These Interesting Things About The Jagannath Temple?
#1 It is said that there is a delay in the Yatra proceedings every year, despite careful planning.
#2 Birds and planes do not fly above the temple.
#3 The dome of the main temple doesn’t cast a shadow at all, and even if it does, it is not visible to the human eye.
#4 As is the case with all coastal areas, wind blows from sea to land during the day, and from land to sea during the night. Not in Puri though.
#5 The flag atop the temple blows in a direction opposite to the breeze.
#6 Noticeable more in the evenings, upon entering from Singhadwara’s side, beyond the first step you cannot hear the sound of the ocean. But you can clearly hear the sound after making an exit. Legend states that a Goddess wished peace and serenity inside the temple, hence the quiet.
Jagannath Temple & What Else?
#1 Puri’s shoreline attracts visitors from all over. The gorgeous sand and choppy waves give Puri Beach a mesmerising touch with unforgettable views of the sun rising and setting.
#2 Raghurajpur Artist Village is around 14 kms away from Puri town, and a masterstroke for the cultural angle of India. There is so much art housed in one quaint little village, where thatched huts are outdoor studios for artisans. Be sure to interact with the Pattachitra painters, and pick up a trick or two.
#3 Would you miss a visit to the largest coastal lagoon in India and the second largest one in the world? Chilika Lake is a brackish water lagoon flowing into the Bay of Bengal. It is home to several threatened species of the eco-system.
#4 Konark Sun Temple is a World Heritage Site and one of the most exquisite Sun temples in India. It has an interesting legend about why it was never used and how it fell apart. Do find out once you go there.
#5 Nandankanan Zoological Park near Bhubaneswar is visited by over two million people every year. It is home to white tigers, Asiatic lions, and several other endangered species.
#6 Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves are a collection of several natural as well as artificial caves built mainly for Jain monks. The caves are situated on two adjacent hills with a two-storeyed monastery among them.
#7 Lingaraja Temple is the largest temple and most prominent landmark of Bhubaneswar. It is dedicated to Harihara, a form of Shiva and Vishnu. It is also the oldest temple in the city.
#8 Bhitarkanika National Park is surrounded by a wildlife sanctuary, a marine sanctuary, a beach, and mangrove swamps from the Bay of Bengal. It is home to several flora and fauna, including white crocodiles and saltwater crocodiles.
Do check out our packages for Bhakti Yatras in India!