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Jagannath Rath Yatra begins today in Puri, read all about the legend of Lord Jagannath and the significance of the auspicious celebration

It is believed that devotees and people who touch the holy chariot even once or help take it ahead earn great "punya."

The Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath in Puri is considered one of the most magnificent, celebratory and revered festivals in all of India. The festival takes place in Puri in Odisha and is connected to the deity Jagannath, who is a form of Vishnu or Krishna. Three enormous wooden chariots bearing Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra are pulled by throngs of worshippers down on bada danda (the grand avenue) to Gundicha Temple during the festival. Millions of people gather to catch a glimpse of Lord Jagannath and have the opportunity to touch the rath or help take it ahead.

While the main Rath Yatra takes place in Puri, similar Yatras are taken out across India on this occasion.

The deities are adorned in different attire and placed on their decorated chariots. According to belief, devotees who either touch the rath once or assist in moving it forward receive great blessings. The rath yatra is considered the oldest and largest Hindu chariot festival, which takes place every year during the bright half of the lunar month of Ashadh (June-July). The sacred occasion is believed to experience a yearly downpour on the day it is conducted. The festival is going to be celebrated on 7th July and conclude on 16th July, this year.

The festival is celebrated to commemorate the annual visit of the presiding deities of the Jagannath Puri temple to their aunt’s (mother’s sister) house. It is believed that during this festival, Lord Jagannath Temple Rath Yatra comes out of their holy abode and gives Darshana (holy view) to the people. The deities stay at their aunt’s temple for a week before making their way back to the Jagannath temple and the return journey is referred to as Bahuda Yatra. Various rituals and celebrations take place during the auspicious time. There are two primary processions, one in Puri and the other in Gujarat.

The enormous works of art that transport the gods to the temple are covered in a plethora of patterns and designs. Carpenters known as “Maharana,” who have hereditary rights to the craft, begin building the chariots during the Chandana Yatra. The three chariots for the rath yatra are yearly constructed by up to 1400 skilled artisans. Nandighosha, Taladhwaja and Devadalana are the names of the three raths. Additionally, these chariots are identified from one another by a predetermined pattern of coloured cloth robes. Goddess Subhadra’s chariot (Dwarpadalana) is covered in red and black cloth, Lord Baladhabra’s chariot (Taladhwaja) is covered in red and blue cloth and Lord Jagannath’s chariot (Nandighosa) is covered in red and yellow cloth.

History of the rath yatra

The rath yatra reportedly dates back to the Puranas and has been taking place since ancient times. The raths that moved in the air are mentioned in the Rig Veda. The raths, dragged by horses, were three stories tall. In his analysis of the terms “Rathastha and Rathaganak,” among others, the great scholar Panini also makes reference to rath. The rath yatra is also known as the Gundicha Yatra. Gundicha was the queen of King Indradyumna, who constructed this enormous temple, according to Odia mythology. It is believed that Queen Gundicha asked the king to arrange this event to provide redemption to the impoverished untouchables and sinners who were not usually permitted to join the temple through Lord Jagannath’s darshan (holy view) in his rath.

Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra. (Source: India Tv)

The Jagannath temple is located 1.5 miles away from Gundicha House. It is presently referred to by several names, including Janma Sthana (birthplace), Gundicha Mandapa, Gundicha House, Janaka Puri and Mahavedi. The Skanda Purana mentions Mahavedi, also known as Gundicha Mandapa, as Lord Jagannath’s birthplace. Indradyumna offered thousands of sacrifices at the location. Three images of the three gods were created at Mahavedi following the sacrifice, performed by him. The ratha yatra was arranged to bring the gods to the temple after the images were completed.

In the Purushottama Mahatyma, Jagannath promised Indradyumna that he would visit his birthplace, which is on the bank of Indradyumna Sara and reside for seven days. The same Indradyumna Sara is now visible at Gundicha House. Lord Jagannath is also accompanied by Balabhadra and Subhadra and the three gods come to this place once every year.

Other stories related to the origin of rath yatra

There are multiple legends connected with the origin of the rath yatra. One story mentions that their maternal uncle Kansa invited them to Mathura to kill Lord Krishna and Balram. He dispatched Akrur to Gokul in a chariot. As requested, Lord Krishna got into the chariot with Balram and headed toward Mathura. The rath yatra is the celebration on this day of departure for the devotees. Joyous followers commemorated the day that Lord Krishna, riding in a chariot with his brother Balaram, granted them darshan in Mathura following his victory over the demon king Kansa. The day that Lord Krishna and Balaram rode in a chariot with his sister Subhadra to display the magnificence of the city was celebrated by devotees in Dwarika.

A second story is that one day, the queens of Lord Krishna asked Mother Rohini to tell the story of the several fascinating “ras lilas” that include Lord Krishna and the Gopis. Rohini sent Leela away, believing it was inappropriate for Subhadra to hear such stories. However, she was soon absorbed by the Vrajkatha along with Balram and Krishna, who had by now arrived on the scene. Maharishi Narad also entered there while they were totally absorbed in the stories. When he discovered the siblings were standing still together, he prayed, “May the three of you grant darshan in this manner forever.” The blessing came to pass and the three forever reside at the Lord Jagannath Temple in Puri.

Another tale that has been relayed verbally describes the events that followed Lord Krishna’s earthly remains being cremated. Distraught by the turn of events, Balaram hurried to drown himself in the ocean with part of the partially cremated body of Lord Krishna. Subhadra also followed behind him. Simultaneously, King Indradyumna of Jagannath Puri dreamed that the Lord’s body would float up to the shores of Puri on the eastern shore of India. He should sanctify the wooden statues of Krishna, Balaram and Subhadra and erect a large idol in the city.

The hollow in the statue’s back is where the bones (asthi) of Lord Krishna’s body should be placed. The dream came true. The asthi (bone splinters) were discovered by the king, who took them. However, the matter of who would sculpt the statues remained. It is believed that Vishwakarma, the architect of the Gods, came in the guise of an elderly carpenter. He was very specific that if anyone bothered him while he was carving the statues, he would disappear and the task would not be completed. A few months went by and the door to Vishwakarma’s chamber was opened by the eager Indradyumna. Just as he had previously warned, Vishwakarma vanished without warning. The king blessed the incomplete statues by inserting Lord Krishna’s sacred cinders into their hollows and placed them in the temple.

Gajapati emperor becomes a ‘sweeper’ for one day

Established in 1434 by Emperor Kapilendra Deva, the Gajapati dynasty of Kalinga (the former name for Odisha) identified themselves as Lord Jagannath’s “servant” implying that Lord Jagannath was the ruler of Kalinga and the Gajapatis humbly serve at his feet. According to Odia legends, folktales, and songs, Lord Jagannath promised Purushottama Deva that he would succeed in his battle after he lost to Kanchi ruler Saluva Narasimha Deva, which caused the Kalinga Army to suffer a significant defeat. Lord Jagannath and Lord Balabhadra both dressed as warriors and then fought alongside the Kalinga army ensuring its victory.

Ritual of “Chhera Pahanra” being performed. (Source: www.shreejagannatha.in)

The rath yatra is a centuries-old custom in which the Kalinga ruler is transformed for a day into a “sweeper.” The Suryavamsa Gajapati approaches the rath and performs the “Chhera Pahanra” ceremony which involves sweeping the Lord’s chariot with a golden broom. Purushottama Deva had heard that Padmavati, the daughter of Saluva Narasimha Deva, was unmatched in beauty and grace, as described by the “Kanchi Kaveri Upakhyana” and sent a proposal since he wished to wed her. When Saluva Narasimha Deva’s emissaries arrived in Kalinga and observed the “Chhera Pahanra” rite, they found it strange that the all-powerful Gajapati was acting as a sweeper.

The ministers in Purushottama Deva’s court were concerned when he threatened to have Padmavati wed a sweeper out of fury and indignation. It would be unfair and disrespectful to the princess to force her into marriage with someone below her social standing, but the young monarch needed a queen. On the other hand, they were directed by their ruler to arrange the princess’s marriage to a sweeper. The ministers held off till the right time. As Gajapati Purushottama Deva began sweeping the chariot with a golden broom on the day of rath yatra, Princess Padmavati was led ahead by the priests and ministers. The princess put a garland around the emperor’s neck who was a literal sweeper at the time as he cleaned the chariot and tied the knot with him. The matter was settled. Both the emperor and the princess found a marriage deserving of their status and desire, and the emperor’s commands were not violated either.

Significance of the rath yatra

The festival holds great significance to the people of Puri, as well as other pilgrims and devotees. It is the world’s sole festival which involves the removal of gods from temples for the benefit of worshippers. According to the Skanda Purana, the rath yatra, also known as Shree Gundicha Yatra is regarded as the most well-known of Lord Jagannatha’s twelve yatras. As per the “Bamadev Samhita,” individuals who are able to see the four deities for a week on the Gundicha Temple’s Simhasana (holy seat) will be granted a spot in Baikuntha, the celestial dwelling, along with their ancestors for eternity. According to this text, people who learn about this wonderful celebration also experience the intended outcome. Furthermore, anyone who learns the sacred festival’s rites and educates others about them could be granted entry inside his sacred abode.

The procession of the ‘four deities’ occurs on the 2nd day of the first half of the month of Ashadha in order to bring about good health and prosperity for all humanity. The Skanda Purana emphasizes that the Shree Gundicha Yatra is the most significant festival of Lord Jagannath since Shree Hari, the Almighty God of the Universe, arrives at the Gundicha Temple in a joyful state to carry out his promised decree. The slightest touch of the chariot, which represents “Sandhini Sakti,” bestows upon the devotees the compassion of Lord Shree Jagannatha. The same is highlighted by the verse which states, “Rathe tu Vaamanam drustva Punarjanmam na vidyate,” which means if we see Vaamana or Lord Jagannath on the chariot during the rath yatra or the car festival, we will never have to take rebirth again.

The name Jagannath is the source of the English phrase “juggernaut,” which symbolizes Lord Jagannath’s enormous and heavy chariot. The definition of a juggernaut is “a big, powerful, overwhelming force.” The rath yatra is fundamentally a celebration of devotion and the divine bond that exists between the gods and humans. Interestingly, the idols are changed every 12 years. Along with Rameshwar in the south, Dwarka in the west, and Badrinath in the Himalayas, the Jagannath Puri Temple is one of India’s four holiest sites. Perhaps the only temple in the world featuring the statues of three siblings, Lord Krishna, Balaram, and Subhadra, is the one at Jagannath Puri.

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