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Puri Rath Yatra

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PURI RATH YATRA - 3RD JULY, 2011

The biggest and the grandest of all festivals, the highlight is the sacred journey of the statues of the Lord Jagannath of Puri with brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra from main temple to Gundicha Temple, where they remain for nine days. The mammoth wooden chariots carrying the three deities pulled by thousands of devotees, present a spectacular scene. The yatra (journey) begins on the second day of the lunar month (asadha).

The Rath Yatra is also known as Car Festival. An annual festival commemorates the journey of Krishna from Gokul to Mathura.It also symbolizes a journey to light from the dark, which commences on the 2nd day of the bright fortnight in the month of Asadha (June/July).

Lakhs of devotees converge to the city to join festivities lasting for nine days. In this journey, thousands haul the three huge rathas (chariots) carrying statues of Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra, down Grand road to the Gundicha Temple--just 2 km away in Puri, Orissa.

Puri Rathy Yatra--The chariot festival of Puri in Orissa, India. In the first phase of the rituals, the Chandan Yatra, the Chalanti Pratimas (moving statues) of the deities take a ceremonial ride in a boat in Narendra Tank for 21 consecutive days, after a refreshing bath in fragrant sandal wood (chandan) scented water.

This is followed by Snana Yatra, literally the festival of bath, in which the three are taken to Snana Badi, a bathing platform where the deities are ceremonially bathed with 108 pitchers of water. After which the gods are believed to convalesce inside the sanctum sanctorum and undergo treatment in which special ayurvedic medicine and some special liquid diet (sarapana) is offered to them. Closed to public view, during this period of 15 days, the pilgrims have to be satisfied with a darshan of images on the Pattachitra paintings hanged there.

The Ratha Yatra in Puri actually takes place during the full moon of the following month, Asadha (June/July) in a spectacular riot of colur and noise. Designed like a temple sanctuary, the immense chariots are draped with brightly colored clothes. Lord Jagannath's chariot, 13 m, is the tallest and has 16 wheels each 2 m in diameter. Subhadra has a yellow face and rides in a red chariot. Balabhadra has a white face and rides in a chariot with 14 wheels and 4 horses.

Loud gongs announce the boarding of the deities onto the chariots with the arrival of the Raja of Puri accompanied by bejeweled elephants. The Raja sweeps the chariot with a golden bloom, fulfilling his role as the sevaka (servant) of the gods, a gesture symbolizing humility and equality with all castes.

The procession is led by Balabhadra's chariot, followed by Subhadra’s with the Lord Jagannath's bringing up the rear, dragged by about 4000 honored devotees to their garden house, the Gundicha Ghar. On the way, deities are treated to special Cake, Podapitha offered at the shrine of goddess Aradhamsini (aunt or masi) of Lord Jagannath.

Once the chariots reach Gundicha Ghar of Mandir, the deities give darshan to devotees every day. After a rest of eight days, they return to Jagannath Temple with a similar procession. The festivities attract about 5-6 lakhs devotees to Puri each year.

After the festival, the raths are broken and bits are used for firewood in the kitchens or sold to pilgrims as relics. New chariots are made each year to rigid specifications of make laid down in temple's ancient manuals. The assembled multitudes from all over India, the cacophony of music and percussion and the decorated chariots provide an unforgettable experience. Stories from ancient times, about some fanatics throwing themselves under the massive wheels of the chariots to die a death in hope of attainment of eternal bliss, abound.

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