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Rath Yatra: A Grand Chariot Festival

Posted on: July 12, 2018 Posted By: Admin

The Festival of Chariot or Rath Yatra which is celebrated in honor of the Lord Jagannath, the presiding deity in east India. Pouring crowds, religious fervor, ceremonious rituals, grand arrangements and aura of devotion are the stunning spectacles of this cultural extravaganza in India.

Ratha Yatra is one of the oldest festivals of India and is also celebrated internationally. 'Ratha' means chariot and 'yatra' means journey. The festival is celebrated to commemorate Jagannath's visit to Gundicha Temple through Mausi Maa Temple in Puri. The deity forms of God Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra are decorated on chariots and are rolled to Puri every year, celebrating the Ratha Yatra. The chariots of the deities are newly built every year. Jagannath's chariot is called Nandighosa, the chariot of Balabhadra is called Taladhwaja and the chariot of Subhadra is called Dwarpadalana. The total number of wheels on Lord Jagannath's chariot are 16, Lord Balabhadra's chariot are 14 and Subhadra's chariot are 12. Poda Pitha is one of the major offerings which is made in the festival. During the festival, the deities are decorated with over 208 kg gold. During the colonial rule, the British rulers named the festival as 'Juggernaut' due to the large and heavy chariots. Ratha Yatra has become one the international festivals as well. Cities like Dublin, New York, Toronto and Laos etc. also celebrate this festival.

Though the Chariot Festival is celebrated all over India, it is the prime tourist attraction of Puri, a coastal town in the Indian state of Orissa. The ceremonious procession of the idols – Jagannath, Subhadra and Balabhadra – on three colossal, embellished chariots from the Puri Temple to the Gundicha Temple is the biggest draw of the Indian festival offering lots of visual joy. The 45 feet high chariot of Lord Jagannath is pulled on 18 wheels by hundreds of devotees.

It is said that the custom of pulling chariots with the idols is a Buddhist tradition. The similar mention is found in an account of ancient India.

The British were shocked to see the waves of crowd and commotion around the chariots during the festival in the 18th Century. They were so stunned that they called it “Juggernaut” with reference to destructive force.

The colossal chariots are made of wood. New chariots are constructed every year. The old idols of the deities are replaced by new ones once in twelve years. The deities are taken back to the main temple after a 7-day long stay at the Gundicha Temple.

At some places in South India, to say Mangalore, the Chariot Festival is observed as a glittering celebration of the wedding of Goddess Padmavathi and Lord Venktesh. Mangalore in the state of Karnataka celebrates it in January or February.

The holy chariots of Puri Temple in Orissa are different from those of South Indian temples. The topmost part of Puri chariots is covered with a large piece of colorful clothes. In South India, the chariots are adorned with flags of different colors and delicate images of different gods.

The grand procession of the chariots is accompanied by several ethnic musical instruments like mridang, nagaras, drums, shahnayee, etc. The Lord Jagannath’s name is loudly chanted in chorus during the procession.

The Brahmins who offer regular worship to the Lord at the temple carry the Jagannath idol in an embellished palanquin to the chariot. Tied to the front end of the chariots, the ropes are used to pull the chariots. Some devotees touch the rope while some others pull it to be blessed by the Lord.

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