The Rath Yatra is one of the most sacred festivals of Puri (in the state of Odisha), India. Coinciding with the Rath Yatra festival at Puri, similar processions are organized all around the world, where there are Jagannath temples with same spirit and devotion. It generally takes place in the month of Asadh (June) every year. ‘Snana Pumima’ marks the beginning of this festival. On this day the three deities—Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra take prolonged bath on an open platform known as ‘Snana Bedi’. Then they retire for 15 days popularly called the period of ‘Anabasara’ and remain in isolation. During this period, no public worship is performed. After 15 days of isolation, the Gods come out of the temple in a colourful procession to board their respective Chariots and thereafter begins the journey known as “Ratha Yatra’. Rath Yatra in Puri honors the visit of Lord Jagannath and His siblings Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra to the temple of His Aunt, Maa Gundicha, popularly known as Gundicha Mandir, in three massive wooden Rathas (chariots) pulled by devotees. The caravan stops at the mausima (Aunt) temple for a meal of sweet pan cakes, and other favorite cuisines of Lord Jagannath (believed to be the tenth incarnation of Lord Vishnu).
A glimpse of Lord Jagannatha on the chariot is considered to be very auspicious and saints, poets and scriptures have repeatedly glorified the holiness of this special festival. This is the only day when Lord Jagannath( Lord of the Universe), comes out of His sanctum sanctorum to give darshan to His Devotees belonging to all sects and communities who are not allowed in the temple premises such as non-Hindus and foreigners on other days. During the festival, millions of devotees from all over the World assemble here with an earnest desire to help pull Lords’ chariot with the help of other priests pulling the chariots with ropes. There is an ancient belief since olden days that the devotees who take part in this car festival and pull the chariot of the Lord get an entry into the Heaven. Hence devotees even from far off places visit the place on this auspicious day to pull the ratha of the Lord and thus try to attain salvation. They consider this a pious deed and risk their lives in the huge crowd. It is also broadcast live on many Indian, foreign television channels as well as many of the websites telecast jagannath ratha yatra live.
The chariots are made anew every year in accordance with strict and ancient specifications followed for centuries on the Bada Danda, the Grand Road. Covered with bright canopies made of stripes of red cloth and combined with those of black, yellow and blue colours, the huge chariots are lined across the wide avenue in front of the majestic temple close to its eastern entrance, which is also known as the Sinhadwara or the Lion’s Gate.
Lord Jagannatha’s Chariot is called Nandighosa. It is forty-five feet high and has sixteen wheels, each of seven-foot diameter, which is decorated with a cover made of red and yellow cloth. Lord Jagannatha is identified with Krushna, who is also known as Pitambara, the one attired in golden yellow robes and hence the distinguishing yellow stripes on the canopy of this chariot.
The Chariot of Lord Balarama, called the Taladhwaja, is the one with the Palm Tree on its flag. It has fourteen wheels, each of seven-foot diameter and is covered with red and blue cloth. Its height is forty-four feet.
The Chariot of Subhadra, known as Dwarpadalana, literally “trampler of pride,” is forty-three feet high with twelve wheels, each of seven-foot diameter. This Chariot is decorated with a covering of red and black cloth – black being traditionally associated with Shakti and the Mother Goddess.
Around each of the chariots are nine Parsva devatas, painted wooden images representing different deities on the chariots’ sides. Each of the chariots is attached to four horses. These are of different colours – white ones for Balarama, dark ones for Jagannatha, and red ones for Subhadra. Each chariot has a charioteer called Sarathi. The three charioteers attached to the chariots of Jagannatha, Balarama and Subhadra respectively are Daruka , Matali and Arjuna.
The Rath Yatra festival lasts for seven days. It begins from the day when the Lord leaves his temple and continues till the day of his return. The return journey of of Puri Jagannath Rath is known as Bahuda Yatra. Their arrival into the sanctum sanctorum marks the end of the Ratha Jatra, the grand festival of chariots.This period passes in the worship of the God in Hari-Sankirtan.
In terms of splendor and fervent devotion, the Car Festival is one of the world’s most incredible spectacles. This auspicious day of Ratha yatra is observed as a holiday in the state of Odisha and thousands of devotees visit Puri on this day to witness the grand procession.