Rath Yatra (Car Festival) is a Hindu festival which falls in the month of June or July in Odisha India. This year, it will be celebrated on July 4, 2019.It is derived from two Sanskrit words ‘Rath’ meaning chariot or carriage and ‘Yatra’ meaning journey or pilgrimage. However, in the local language of Odia it is phonetized and referred as ‘Ratha Jatra’. Every year, the three main deities of Puri Jagannath Temple Balabhadra, Subhadra, and Jagannath leave their abode and travel to nearby Gundicha temple. The temple is presided by the goddess Gundicha, who is the aunt of the three deities. After spending nine days at their aunt’s place, they return back to be their abode where the famous ‘Suna Besa’ (translates to ‘Golden Guise’) is organized.
During the Jyestha month of Hindu calendar, ‘Devasnana Purnami’ (derived from ‘Deva’ meaning god and ‘Snana’ meaning bath) is conducted. On this day, the deities are given a royal bath. Consequently they fall ill for 15 days. During these two weeks, the temple is shut down and visitors are not permitted. At the end of the fortnight, as they recover from their illness and decide to take a trip to their aunt’s place. They decide to not include Lord Jagannath’s wife, Goddess Lakshmi (Hindu Goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity) for their trip. Therefore, they face a rather angry Lakshmi on their way back, who refuses to let them in.
For this event, huge chariots are created for each deity. The siblings are carried to the chariots by the Daitapatis (translates to servant of god; priests of the temple) in an act called ‘Pahandi’. During this ceremony, the idols are picked by the daitapatis and carried in a bobbing back and worth motion (like a wave). After this, the idols are placed in their respective rathas (chariots).
RATHAS OF THE DEITIES
Chariot of Subhadra – DARPADALANA/PADMADHWAJA/DEVADALANA
The Chariot of Subhadra, known as Dwarpadalana , literally “pride crusher,” is 43 feet high with twelve wheels, each 7 feet in diameter. This Chariot is decked with a covering of red and black cloth – black being traditionally associated with Shakti and the Mother Goddess.
Chariot of Balabhadra – TALADHWAJA
The Chariot of Lord Balabhadra called ‘Taladhwaja’. It has fourteen wheels, each 7 feet in diameter and is covered with red and blue cloth. Its height is forty-four feet.
Chariot of Jagannath – NANDIGHOSHA/GARUDADHWAJA/KAPIDHWAJA
Chariot of Lord Jagannath is called ‘Nandighosa’. It is forty-five feet high. It has sixteen wheels of 7 feet diameter and is decked with fabrics of red and yellow. Lord Jagannatha is said to be an avatar of Lord Krishna, who is also known as ‘Pitambara’ (translates the one adorned in golden-yellow robes), hence the distinguishing yellow stripes on this chariot.
One of the important rituals of the festival is called ‘Chhera Pahanra’. During this, the Gajapati Maharaja (The king of Puri) uses a broomstick with a handle made of solid gold to sweep in front of the rathas. After sweeping, he sprinkles ganga-jal (water from the river Ganges, considered holy water in Hinduism) and sandalwood. This signifies the fact every person, rich or poor, king or subjects, are equal in front of the lord.
The festival serves as an equalizer in many fronts. During the regular operations of the temple throughout the year, only Hindus can enter the people. This can be highlighted by the fact that former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and British archaeologist Sir Alexander Cunningham were denied admission.
However, it is said that during Rath Yatra, the deities leave their abode and meet their devotee irrespective of caste, creed, religious beliefs, or nationality. Interestingly, the devotees pull the chariots themselves. The sight of these magnificent chariots being pulled by devotees gave rise to the English word ‘Juggernaut’ meaning a powerful force capable of crushing anything in its path.
Nine days after staying at Gundicha temple, the siblings return back to their abode but remain on the chariot for the ritual of ‘Suna Besa’ (‘suna’ meaning gold and ‘besa’ meaning golden semblance). During this, the unfinished idols of the deities are completed by using solid gold components kept inside the temple treasury. It is a surreal sight to witness the transformation of the idols with the dazzling golden hands, feet, and crowns.
Rath Yatra is more than a festival, it is a remainder than humans are equal in the eyes of the divine and that even gods need a break 😊