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 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.