We have seen the triad deities Lord Jagannath, Lord Balaram, and Devi Subhadra on the gigantic chariots and millions of overwhelmed pilgrims flooded across the roads on the Ratha Yatra day in the month of Shravan per the Hindu calendar. Ratha Yatra is one of the most significant religious celebrations in India.
Photo by souravdas
Mainly performed in Odisha, the festival signifies the triumph of Lord Krishna and Lord Balaram over Kansa, the King of Mathura. He was an infamous character remembered for the heinous acts, still being the maternal uncle of Shri Krishna. In the Jagannath Temple of Puri- the triad gods are consecrated over the centuries and since then, the Ratha Yatra festival is observed.
The Festival in Puri—
The gigantic chariots for the three deities are constructed every year with the woods from the special forests for the Gods. For generations, the artists are sculpting the chariots that are nearly 40 feet tall. Beautiful floral motifs are designed with jazzy paints on the walls of the chariots.
Each of the divine siblings is seated on their individual chariot that has their individual names as well. Lord Jagannath’s chariot of 18 wheels is known as Nandighosa. The 16-wheeled Ratha of Lord Balabhadra is named Taladhvaja and the 14 wheeled chariot of Devi Subhadra is called as Devadalana.
The whole yatra or journey is an epic episode that is telecasted live through televisions throughout the country for those who couldn’t attend the Ratha Yatra in Puri.
On every twelve years, the wooden structures of the triad gods are replaced by new ones and this celebration is observed as Nabakalebar. In 2014, the last Nabakalebar was observed.
Before the journey beings, the Maharaja of Puri has to arrive and broom the roads with a gold broom. This is one of the century-old rituals observed every year before the divine chariots are pulled forth.
A few days from the Snana Yatra, the deities are taken out of the Puri Jagannath Temple and they are placed on the Chariots so that they can reach Shri Gundicha Bari, where the triads will rest for a week. Again after one week, they will be taken back to the Puri Jagannath Temple.
Shri Gundicha Bari is a few yards from the main temple of Shri Jagannath. The chariots are pulled by the millions of pilgrims that flock on the roads during this festival to get a glimpse of the deities on the road. Pulling the divine rope is a pious act for them. The luckiest ones get the opportunity to touch the rope and pull the chariots of the Gods to the Shri Gundicha Bari.
Ratha Yatra Festival elsewhere across India:
The Festivals of Chariots by ISKCON—
The International Society of Krishna Consciousness organizes Ratha Yatra ceremony throughout the country. Under the guidance of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada, they started the Hare Krishna Movement globally. As Shri Jaganath Dev is an avatar of Lord Krishna Himself- the ISKCON organizes the Ratha Yatra ceremony across the country and the globe. According to them, the Festival of chariots gives them the power to cleanse their hearts and move forward to self-realization.
Besides the ISKCON headquarters in Mayapur, they celebrate the chariot festivals on the city streets as well. Many pilgrims get a chance to observe the Ratha Yatra by pulling the ropes of these chariots instead of visiting Puri.
The Chariot Festival and Local Fair at Mahesh—
The Chariot Festival of Mahesh is the harbinger of Ratha Yatra in Bengal. This is perhaps the oldest chariot festivals observed every year at the Hooghly District of West Bengal. An event from the 1875 Ratha Yatra at Mahesh made it historical. It was heard that a little girl was lost in the fair which is arranged along with the Chariot Festival since the beginning. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, the great Bengali writer and the composer of the National Song of India was the then district magistrate of the place. He himself took the responsibility to find out the lost girl from the millions of people and much later the incident worked as an inspiration to write the novella named “Radharani”.
Ahmadabad’s chariot Festival stands next to Puri—
When it comes to crowd pulling, the chariot festival of Ahmadabad stands next to Puri’s Ratha Yatra. Millions of pilgrims and onlookers from different parts of the country and the globe reach this place to witness the historical event organized every year. Through televisions and radios, the live update of Gujarat’s Ratha Yatra is presented to the masses across the state that couldn’t reach the place physically.
Ratha Yatra at Households—
Apart from the giant chariots and millions of bhaktas, the Hindus across the country celebrate Ratha Yatra in their own homes as well. The kids get a chance to get their own chariots that they decorate with beautiful decorative and lights. They get their own miniature triad gods which the place in their own chariots and offer them flowers and sweets. With the help of the elders in the family the children are found pulling their small chariots on the streets.
Apart from this, the Hindus worship Lord Jagannath on this pious day and request the grace the Lord. This day is also marked pious for Griha Pravesh, Bhumi Pujan and so on. On the day of Ratha Yatra, the Bengalis pottery artists start making the Idols of Devi Durga for their upcoming grand festival.