Three richly decorated chariots, resembling temple structures, are pulled through the streets of Puri called Badadanda. This commemorates the annual journey of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, and their sister Subhadra to their aunt’s temple, the Gundicha Temple which is situated at a distance of 2 km from their temple. This is the only day when devotees who are not allowed in the temple premises such as non-Hindus and foreigners can get their glimpse of the deities. During the festival, devotees from all over the World go to Puri with an earnest desire to help pull Lords’ chariot with the help of other priests pulling the chariots with ropes. They consider this a pious deed and risk their lives in the huge crowd. The huge processions accompanying the chariots play devotional songs with drums, tambourines, trumpets etc. Children line the streets through which the chariot will pass and add to the mass chorus. The Rath carts themselves are some approximately 45 feet (14 m) high and are pulled by the thousands of pilgrims who turn up for the event; the chariots are built anew each year only from a particular type of tree. Millions of devotees congregate at Puri for this annual event from all over the country and abroad. It is also broadcast live on many Indian, foreign television channels as well as many of the websites telecast jagannath ratha yatra live.
Ratha yatra, the Festival of Chariot : Chariots of Shri Jagannath is celebrated every year at Puri, the temple town in Odisha, on the second (dwitiya) day of shukla pakshya (waxing cycle of moon) of Ashadh Maas (3rd month in Lunar Calendar). The presiding deities of the Jagannath Temple, Puri’s main temple, Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra, with the celestial wheel (Sudarshana Chakra) are taken out from the temple precincts in an elaborate ritual procession to their respective chariots. The huge, colourfully decorated chariots are drawn by multitude of devotees on the bada danda, the grand avenue to the Gundicha Temple (Gundicha – King Indradyumna’s Queen), two miles away to the North.
On their way back from the Gundicha Temple, the three deities stop for a while near the Mausi Maa Temple (Aunt’s abode) and have an offering of the Poda Pitha, which is a special type of pancake supposed to be the Lord’s favourite. After a stay for seven days, the deities return to their abode.
Holiness and Its Significance
The festival is also known as Gundicha Jatra, Ghosa Jatra, Navadina Jatra, Dasavatara Jatra and by a variety of other names. Rathe tu vamanam drishtwa punarjanmam na vidyate: A glimpse of the Vamana, the dwarf form, an incarnation of Lord Jagannatha, is sure to ensure emancipation, release from the cycle of birth and death. Jatra is an essential part of the ritual of the Hindu system of worship. Jatra literally means travel or journey. Normally, it is the representative deities of temples more popularly known as Utsava Murti in south and Chalanti Pratima or Bije Pratima in Odisha, partake in these journeys. The Jatra for the Ritual Journey take two forms one involving the short circumbulation around the temple and other involving a longer journey from the temple to some other destination. The Jatra is considered as an important part of festivities and ceremonies of each temple and is considered as a special and sacred occasion. Rath Jatra being unique among all Jatras is the grandest festival of the supreme divinity who has manifested himself in the Kali Yuga to emancipate humanity and to relieve them from their sufferings. Lord Jagannatha is identified fully with Krishna. In his original manifestation as Nilamadhaba, he was worshipped in a sacred Nyagrodha Briksha or banyan tree. The branches of the tree had spread for several miles and any one entering this area was instantly emancipated and was relieved of the travails of the birth and rebirth. In fact, the influence of Yama, the God of Death, is supposed to have been curtailed in the sacred city of Puri Srikshetra on account of the presence of Lord Jagannatha and therefore it is also called the Yamanika Tirtha.
A glimpse of Lord Jagannatha on the chariot is considered to be very auspicious and saints, poets and scriptures have repeatedly glorified the sanctity of this special festival. The sanctity of the festival is such that even a touch of the chariot or even the ropes with which these are pulled is considered enough to confer the results of several pious deeds or penance for ages. In fact, there is a famous Oriya song which says that on this occasion, the chariot, the wheels, the grand avenue all become one with Lord Jagannatha himself.
The concept of the chariot has been explained in the Kathopanishada in the following words-
Atmaanam rathinam viddhi shareeram rathamevatu Buddhim tu saarathim viddhi manah pragrahameva cha. The body is the Chariot and the soul is the deity installed in the chariot. The wisdom acts as the charioteer to control the mind and thoughts.
The Skanda Purana glorifies the sanctity of the Rath Jatra in the following words-
Gundicha mandapam namam jatrahamajanam pura Ashwamedha sahasrasya mahabedi tadadvabat. Those who are fortunate to see the deities of the Srimandira in the Gundicha Temple, the final destination of the procession of the chariots, derive the benefits of a thousand horse sacrifices, an immensely pious deed. Kabi Samrat Upendra Bhanja in his famous Vaidehisa Vilasa mentions that the Lord comes out from his sanctum for participating in the Gundicha Jatra, another name of the Festival of Chariots, only for redeeming the fallen, the patita jana who get the opportunity to behold their dearest god at close quarters on this occasion. Similarly, saint poet Salabega waxes eloquent in praise of the dark Lord Jagannath and says that the Lord swaying and moving like a wild elephant arrives at the Grand Avenue and rides his chariot and destroys in a flash all the sins of his devotees, even if these may be grave or unpardonable.
The three chariots of Balarama, Subhadra and Jagannatha are newly constructed every year with wood of specified trees like phassi, dhausa, etc. They are customarily brought from the ex-princely state of Dasapalla by a specialist team of carpenters who have hereditary rights and privileges for the same. The logs are traditionally set afloat as rafts in the river Mahanadi. These are collected near Puri and then transported by road.
The three chariots are decorated as per the unique scheme prescribed and followed for centuries stand on the Bada Danda, the Grand Avenue. 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 Lions Gate.
Lord Jagannath’s Chariot is called Nandighosa. It is forty-five feet high and forty-five feet square at the wheel level. It has sixteen wheels, each of seven-foot diameter, and is decked 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. Nandighosa Rath
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. Taladhwaja Rath
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 decked with a covering of red and black cloth – black being traditionally associated with Shakti and the Mother Goddess.
Dwarpadalana or Padmadhwaja Rath
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.
DESCRIPTION OF CHARIOTS
Chariot of Jagannath
Chariot of Jagannath -NANDIGHOSHA/GARUDADHWAJA/KAPIDHWAJA
Number of wheels : 16
Total Number of wooden pieces used : 832
Height : 44′ 2″
Length and breadth : 34’6″ x 34’6″
Wrappings : Red, Yellow colour cloths
Guarded by : Garuda
Name of the charioteer : Daruka
The flag : Trailokyamohini
The horses : Shankha, Balahaka, Suweta, Haridashwa
The rope : Sankhachuda Naguni
Presiding Nine Deities :
(iii) Krushna, Gopi Krushna
Chariot of Balabhadra
Chandan Jatra, the Sandalwood Paste Festival
Chariot of Balabhadra – TALADHWAJA
Number of wheels : 14
Total Number of wooden pieces used : 763
Height : 43′ 3″
Length and breadth : 33′ x 33′
Wrappings : Red, Bluish green colour cloths
Guarded by : Basudev
Name of the charioteer : Matali
The flag : Unnani
The horses : Tribra, Ghora, Dirghasharma, Swornanava
The rope : Basuki Naga
Presiding Nine Deities :
Chariot of Subhadra
Chandan Jatra, the Sandalwood Paste Festival
Chariot of Subhadra – DARPADALANA/PADMADHWAJA/DEVADALANA
Number of wheels : 12
Total Number of wooden pieces used : 593
Height : 42′ 3″
Length and breadth : 31’6″ x 31’6″
Wrappings : Red, Black colour cloths
Guarded by : Jayadurga
Name of the charioteer : Arjuna
The flag : Nadambika
The horses : Rochika, Mochika, Jita, Aparajita
The rope : Swarnachuda Naguni
Presiding Nine Deities :
Chandan Jatra, the Sandalwood Paste Festival
The construction of the chariots starts on Akshaya Trutiya, the third day of the bright fortnight of Vaisakha, with ritual fire worship. This takes place in front of the palace of the King of Puri and opposite the main office of the Puri temple. On this day, the new agricultural season starts and farmers start ploughing their fields. This day also marks the beginning of the summer festival of the deities, also known as the sandalwood festival or Chandan Yatra, which lasts for three weeks. In this festival, the representative images of the presiding deities are taken out in colourful processions and given a ceremonial boat ride in the Narendra tank everyday. In an interesting demonstration of the assimilative character of the Jagannatha cult, Madanmohana and Rama Krushna, representing Jagannatha & Balarama partake in the festival with the representatives’ images of the presiding deities of five main Shiva temples of Puri. These are curiously known as Pancha Pandava, the five brothers of the Mahabharata story. Later the deities have a ritual bath in a small temple in the middle of the tank, in stone tubs filled with water, sandalwood paste, scents and flowers.
This sandalwood festival culminates in the Snana Yatra, the Bathing Festival on the full moon day of the month of Jestha. On this day, the presiding deities descend from their seats on an elevated platform in the sanctum sanctorum, the bejewelled throne. They are bathed in 108 pots of water brought from the suna kua, the golden well and assume the elephant form on the special bathing platform, close to the Eastern boundary wall of the temple. From that day the deities remain in symbolic and ritual convalescence for about two weeks. They are barred from view of the ordinary devotees. Only three special patta chitras, traditional Oriya paintings of natural colours on cloth stiffened with starch, known as Anasara Pattis, are strung on a bamboo screen hiding the deities from public view, can be seen by the public. During this period, the deities are given only roots, leaves, berries and fruits to cure them from their indisposition. This ritual is a reminder of the strong tribal elements in the genesis and evolution of the Jagannatha cult. The progeny of Lalita, daughter of the original tribal worshipper Biswabasu, chieftain of hunters, and the Brahmin priest Vidyapati, are known as daitapatis or daitas. They have almost exclusive privilege of serving the Lord during the convalescence and through the entire period of Ratha Jatra or the Festival of Chariots
The Puri temple is built on a gigantic raised platform in the heart of the city, The temple complex is enclosed by a wall about seven meters high -including the 0 height of the platform. The area of this platform is more than 4,20,000 sq.ft. The wall is pierced by four gates ,facing the four directions. On the east-facing gate, there are stone images of two lions and it is called the Lions Gate. The north, south and west facing gates are similarly known as the Elephant Gate, the Horse Gate and the Tiger Gate (also called the Khanja Gate) respectively. The north gate is mainly meant for the God himself in as much as, the logs of wood out of which, the images are fabricated, make their entry into the temple premises through this gate, when the Navakelevara ceremony takes place. The east-facing Lions Gate is the main gate. There are pyramidal structures over the four gates, which are not very old.
As we arrive at the vast open area in front of the Lions Gate (eastern gate), we see a monolithic pillar about 10 meters high. This pillar is known locally as the Aruna Stambha. In Hindu mythology Aruna is the the charioteer of the Sun-god, The world famous Konarka temple was designed in the form of a stupendous chariot and this monolithic pillar with the beautifully carved Aruna seated on its top was installed right in front of the porch of that temple. When the temple was abandoned and there was no presiding deity in it, this pillar was removed from Konarka to Puri and was fixed in front of Jagannatha temple where we see it now.
Immediately after we get into the main gate and proceed forward, we find ourselves on a flight of steps. Locally, they are called Baisi Pahaca, which literally means, twenty-two steps. The history or rather the mystery of this flight of steps has not been unveiled. It is interesting to note that great reverence is shown to this flight of twenty-two steps. The parents bring their children & make them slowly roll over the steps from the top to the bottom ones in expectation of spiritual bliss in as much as countless devotees have walked on the steps which are believed to be throbbing with spiritual animation.
As we cross the main entrance on the east and ascend the flight of steps leading to the main temple, we find on the left-hand side, a vast kitchen area of the temple. Some tourists rightly observe that on account of this kitchen, the Puri temple may be described as the biggest hotel of the world. It can feed even one lakh persons with only two to three hours’ notice. The method of preparation is most hygienic and the traditional process of preparation of food for so many people in so short a time, takes many by surprise. To the right, we have the Ananda Bajara which is the popular name of the food selling market within the enclosure. Ananda Bajara literally means, the pleasure market.tival of Chariots