Ratha Yatra, also known as Chariot festival is a Hindu festival celebrated for Prabhu Jagannath and other two associated Hindu deities (Balabhadra and Subhadra). The festival is also called ‘Ghosa Yatra’ and is observed mainly by the Hindus. The festival begins on the day of ‘Ashadha Shukla Dwitiya’ and ends on ‘Ashadha Shukla Dashami’. Western impressions of Ratha Yatra as a display of unstoppable force are the origin of the English word ‘Juggernaut’.
On the day of Ratha Yatra, the image of Prabhu Jagannath alongwith Balabhadra and Subhadra are ceremoniously brought out of the sacrosanctum (‘Garbagriha’) of his chief temple at Puri. The images are placed in a chariot which is then pulled by numerous volunteers to the Gundicha temple (located at a distance of nearly 3 km). This festival commemorates Lord Jagannath’s annual visit to Gundicha temple via Mausi Maa temple (maternal aunt’s home) near Saradha Bali, Puri. Coinciding with the Ratha Yatra festival at Puri, similar processions are organised at Jagannath temple throughout the world. During the festive public procession of Jagannath at Puri, lakhs of devotees visit Puri to see Lord Jagannath in chariot.
Etymology : The word Ratha Yatra is derived from two Sanskrit words, ‘Ratha’ which means chariot or carriage; and ‘Yatra’ which means journey or pilgrimage.
Description : Ratha Yatra (Rathajatra) is a journey in a chariot accompanied by the public. It typically refers to a procession (journey) of deities or simply religious saints and political leaders. The term appears in medieval texts of India such as the Puranas, which mention the Rathajatra of Surya (Sun God), of Devi (Mother goddess) and of Vishnu. These chariot journeys have elaborate celebrations where the individuals or the deities come out of a temple accompanied by the public journeying with them through the Kshetra (region, streets) to another temple or to the river or the sea. Sometimes the festivities include returning to the sanctorum of the chief temple.
Chariots of Shri Jagannath is celebrated every year at Puri, the temple town in Odisha, on the second (dwitiya) day of Shukla Pakkhya (waxing cycle of moon) of Ashadha Masa (3rd month of Odisha 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 removed from the temple in a ceremonial procession to their chariots. The huge, colourfully decorated chariots are drawn by a huge number of devotees.
Service Offerings : Jagannath temple employs different kinds of sevakas who offer their services on the Ratha : Suara, Mahasuara, Dahuka (Ratha dahuka boli also called ‘Dahuka gita’ which are poetic recitations. Ratha Yatra being a symbolic expression of fertility and life-cycle, these ‘boli’ sung by the Dahuka contain bawdy songs. It is believed that unless the Dahuka boli is sung, ‘Ratha’ does not move. These songs are sung publicly without any kind of hold on the lyrics. Dahuka controls the movement of Ratha during the festival), Daita pati, Puspalaka, Banati Players (‘Banati’ is an age-old art, in which a person spins balls set on fire and tied to the ends of a rope. Every year during the Ratha Yatra devotees perform ‘Banati’ to appease Lord Jagannath. Knives and fireballs which are attached to the Banati, add colour to the procession of the Lord as it reaches its destination).
‘Hera Panchami’ is a ritual observed during the period of Ratha Yatra in the Grand Jagannath Temple of Puri. It is known as a ritual of Goddess Lakshmi. The fifth day from Ratha Yatra i.e. the fifth day in bright fortnight of Ashadha is known as the Hera Panchami. During Ratha Yatra, Lord Jagannath comes out on a divine outling with his brother Sri Balabhadra and sister Maa Subhadra along with his divine weapon Sri Sudarshana, leaving behind His wife Mahalaxmi. The God expresses her anger for the Lord. She proceeds to the Gundicha temple, the Adapa Mandapa in a palanquin in the form of a Subarna Mahalaxmi and threatens Him to come back to the temple at the earliest. To make Her pleased, the Lord concedes to Her by offering her ‘agyan mala’ (a garland of consent). Seeing the Goddess furious, the sevakas close the main door of the Gundicha. Mahalaxmi returns to the main temple through the Nakachana gate. In a unique ritual, the Goddess orders one of her attendants to damage a part of the Nandighosa chariot. This is followed by her hiding behind a tamarind tree outside the Gundicha temple. After sometime, she escapes to her home temple in secrecy, through a separate path way known as Hera Gohri Lane. The unique ritual is enjoyed by lakhs of devotees of Lord Jagannath. The rituals of ‘Hera Panchami’, as an important function of Srimandira finds mention in Skanda Purana. According to the history of the temple, this ‘utsav’ started during the time of Maharaja Kapilendra Deb. Before his reign, the Hera Panchami function was being observed in a symbolic way with the recitation of mantras. As stated in Madala Panji, Raja Kapilendra Deb substituted this practice with the introduction of an idol of Mahalaxmi mode of gold and making the celebration more realistic.
The Chariots : The three chariots of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra 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. The chariots are lined across the wide avenue in front of the temple close to its Eastern entrance, which is also known as the ‘Sinhadwara’ or the ‘Lion’s Gate’. Around each of the chariots are nine ‘Parsvadevatas’, painted wooden images representing different deities on the chariots’ sides. Each chariot has a charioteer (sarathi) and four horses.
1) Jagannath – The names of the chariot of Prabhu Jagannath are ‘Nandighosa’, ‘Garudadhwaja’, ‘Kapiladhwaja’. The chariot consists of 16 wheels. 832 wooden pieces are used in the chariot of Lord Jagannath. Red and yellow coloured canopies are used (because yellow colour is associated with Lord Vishnu). The guardian of Lord Jagannath is Garuda. Daruka acts as the charioteer. Trailokyamohini is used as a flag in the chariot of Lord Jagannath. Shankha, Balahaka, Suweta and Haridashwa are the white coloured horses which move the chariot. Sankhachuda- Nagini is the name of chariot-rope. Madanmohan is the accompanying deity. Jaya and Vijaya are the gate-keepers. Panchamukhi Mahabir (Hanuman), Harihara, Madhusudana (Vishnu), Giridhar (Krishna), Pandu Narasingha, Chitamani Krishna, Narayana (Vishnu), Chatra Bhanga Rabana (Rama), Rama seated on Hanumana are the nine subsidiary deities (Parshvadevatas)
2) Balabhadra - ‘Taladhwaja’, ‘Langaladhwaja’ are the names of the chariot of Lord Balabhadra. The chariot consists of 14 wheels. 763 wooden pieces are used. Red, bluish, green coloured canopies are used in the chariot. Vasudeva acts as the guardian. Matali is the name of the charioteer. The name of the flag in that chariot is Unnani and palm tree is the emblem of that flag. Tribra, Ghora, Dirghashrama, Swornanava are the black coloured horses used in the chariot of Balabhadra. Basuki Naga is the name of the chariot-rope. Rama-Krishna is the accompanying deity. Nanda and Sunanda are the gate-keepers. Ganesha, Kartikeya, Sarvamangala, Pralambari (Balarama), Halayudha (Balarama), Mrityunjaya (Shiva), Natamvara (Shiva), Mukteshwara (Shiva), Sheshadeva are the nine subsidiary deities (Parshvadevatas).
3) Subhadra - ‘Darpadalana’, ‘Devadalana’, ‘Padmadhwaja’ are the name of the chariots of Subhadra. 12 wheels are there in that chariot. 593 wooden pieces are used. Canopies are red and black in colour (Black colour is associated with the goddess). Jayadurga acts as the guardian. Arjuna acts as the charioteer. Nadambika is the name of the flag used in the chariot of Subhadra. Rochika, Mochika, Jita and Aparajita are the red coloured horses of the chariot. Swarnachuda Nagini is the name of the chariot-rope. Sudarshana is the accompanying deity. Ganga and Jamuna act as the gate-keepers. Chandi, Chamunda, Ugratara, Banadurga (Durga), Shulidurga (Durga), Varahi, Shyamakali, Mangala, Vimala are the nine subsidiary deities (Parshvadevatas).
Chandana Yatra : The construction of the chariots starts on Akshaya Tritiya, 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 to 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 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 pokhari / tank every day. In an interesting demonstration of the assimilative character of the Jagannath cult, Madanmohana and Rama-Krishna; representing Jagannatha and 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 of the three deities (Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra) on the full-moon day of the month of Jyestha.
Suna Besha : After the chariots of the deities return to the main temple from the Gundicha temple, the deities are attired in golden ornaments and worshipped on the chariots. This celebration is known as ‘Suna Besha’. Tradition maintains that this event was first started by king Kapilendra Deb in 1460, when after returning victorious from war he donated gold to Lord Jagannath. The deities are adorned with golden jewellery weighing nearly 208 kg.
Jagannath Puri Ratha Yatra in Orissa : During the Jagannath Ratha Yatra, the triads are usually worshipped in the sanctum of the temple at Puri, but once during the month of Asadha (rainy season of Odisha, usually falling in the month of June or July), they are brought out onto the Bada Danda (main street of Puri) and travel 3 km distance to the Shri Gundicha temple in huge chariots (ratha), allowing the public to have darshana (holy view). This festival is known as Ratha Yatra, meaning the journey (jatra) of the chariots (ratha). The Rathas are huge-wheeled wooden structures, which are built a new every year and are pulled by the devotees. The chariot for Jagannath is approximately 45 feet high and of 35 square- feet area and takes about 2 months to construct. The artists and painters of Puri decorate the chariots and paint flower petals and other designs on the wheels, the wood-carved charioteer and horses and the inverted lotuses on the wall behind the throne. The Ratha Yatra is also termed as the Shri Gundicha jatra.
The most significant ritual associated with the Ratha Yatra is the cheera pahara. During the festival, the Gajapati king wears the outfit of a sweeper and sweeps all around the deities and chariots in the ‘Chera Pahara’ (sweeping with water) ritual. The Gajapati king cleanses the road before the chariots with a gold-handled broom and sprinkles sandalwood water and powder with utmost devotion. As per the custom, although the Gajapati king has been considered the most exalted person in the Kalingan kingdom, he still renders the menial service to Lord Jagannath. This ritual signified that under the lordship of Jagannath, there is no distinction between the powerful sovereign Gajapati king and the most humble devotee.
Chera Pahara is held on two days, on the first day of the Ratha Yatra, when the deities are taken to the garden house at Mausi Maa temple and again on the last day of the festival, when the deities are ceremonially brought back to the Shri Mandir. As per another ritual, when the deities are taken out from the Shri Mandir to the chariots in Pahandi Vijay. In the Ratha Yatra, the three deities are taken from the Jagannath temple in the chariots to the Gundicha temple (Gundicha was the queen of king Indradyumna), where they stay for nine days. Thereafter the deities again ride the chariots back to Shri Mandir in Bahuda Jatra. The chariot of Lord Jagannath, Nandighosa waits near the crematorium of Bhakta Salabega, a Muslim devout to pay him tribute. On the way back, the three chariots halt at the Mausi Maa temple (aunt’s abode) and the deities are offered Poda-Pitha, a kind of baked cake which are generally consumed by the people of Odisha. After a stay for seven days, the deities return to their abode.
The observances of the Ratha Yatra of Jagannath dates back to the period of the Puranas. Vivid descriptions of this festival are found in ‘Brahma Purana’, ‘Padma Purana’ and ‘Skanda Purana’. ‘Kapila Samhita’ also refers to Ratha Yatra. During Mughal period, King Ramsingh of Jaipur in Rajasthan has been described as organising the Ratha Yatra in the 18th century. In Odisha, kings of Mayurbhanj and Parlakhemundi were organising the Ratha Yatra, through the most grand festival in terms of scale and popularity takes place at Puri. Moreover, Starza notes that the ruling Ganga dynasty instituted the Ratha Yatra at the completion of the great temple around 1150 AD. This festival was one of those Hindu festivals that was reported to the Western World very early. Friar Odoric of Pordenone visited India around 1316-1318, some 20 years after Marco Polo had dictated the account of his travels while in a Genoese prison. In his own account of 1321, Odoric reported how the people put the ‘idols’ on chariots and the king and queen and all the people drew them from the church with song and music.
International Jagannath Ratha Yatra : The Ratha yatra festival has become a common sight in most major cities of the world since 1968 through the ‘Hare Krishna’ movement. Local chapters put on the festival annually in over a hundred cities worldwide. International Ratha Yatra festival has become a common sight in most major cities of the world since 1968 through the ISKCON Hare Krishna movement. By the mercy of Mahaprabhu Shri Jagannath and Chaitanya, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada had successfully transplanted the festival which now happens on an annual basis in places all over the world, in over 108 cities including : Moscow, New York, Houston, Atlanta, London, Rome, Zurich, Kolkata, Mumbai, Karachi, Berlin, Heidelberg, Cologne, Florence, Wroclaw, Sydney, Perth, Kampala, Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Mexico City, Dublin, Belfast, Manchester, Birmingham, Alchesvsk. Buenos Aires, Madrid, Stalkhome, Bath, Budapest, Auckland, Melbourne, Montreal, Paris, Copenhagen, Amsterdem, Los Angles, Toronto, Vancouver, Santiago, Tallinn, Lima, Antwerp, Sofia, Kuala Lumpur, Oslo, Zhongshan, Myitkyina, Bangkok and many others.
Dhamrai Jagannath Rath Festival : Dhamrai Jagannath Rath is a chariot temple, a Rath dedicated to the Hindu God Jagannath, located in Dhamrai of Bangladesh. The annual Jagannath Ratha Yatra is a famous Hindu festival attracting thousands of people. The Ratha Yatra in Dhamrai is one of the most important events for the Hindu community of Bangladesh. The original historical Rath was burnt down by the Pakistani Army in 1971. The Rath has since been rebuilt with India’s assistance.
Rath Yatra of Mahesh : The Ratha Yatra of Mahesh is the second oldest chariot festival in India (after Ratha Yatra at Puri) and oldest in Bengal, having been celebrated since 1396 CE. It is a month-long festival held at Mahesh in Srerampore of West Bengal and a grand fair is held at that time. People throng to have a share in pulling the long ropes (Roshi) attached to the chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra on the journey from the temple to Gundicha Bari (Masir Bari) and back.
Ratha Yatra at Manipur : The practice of Ratha Yatra in Manipur was introduced in the 19th century. The ‘Khaki Ngamba’ chronicle mentions that on a Monday in either April or May, in the year 1829, the king of Manipur Gambhir Singh was passing through Sylhet, whilst on a British expedition against the Khashis. Two processions were being prepared by Sylhet’s Muslim and Hindu communities respectively. The Islamic month of Muharram in the history of Sylhet was a lively time during which tazia processions were common. This happened to fall on the same day as Ratha Yatra. Sensing possible communal violence; the Faujdar of Sylhet, Ganar Khan requested the Hindu community to delay their festival by one day. Contrary to the Nawab’s statement, a riot emerged between the two communities. As a Hindu himself, Ganar Singh managed to defend the Hindus and disperse the Muslim rioters with his Manipuri troops. The Ratha Yatra was not delayed and Ganar Singh stayed to take part in it. Revered by the Hindu community as a defender of their faith, he enjoyed the processions and initiated the practice of celebrating Ratha Yatra and worshipping Jagannath in his own homeland of Manipur.
List of some famous Ratha Yatras :
1) Ratha Yatra, at Puri in the state of Odisha is the largest and most visited Ratha Yatra in the world, attracting a large crowd every year.
2) Baripada Ratha Yatra is the second oldest in the world. So Baripada is also called as ‘Dwitiya Srikhetra’ or second Puri. Ratha Yatra has been celebrated here since 1575 without any interruption.
3) Ratha Yatra of Keonjhar is the second largest Ratha Yatra in the world. The Keonjhar Ratha (Chariot) – Nandighosh is the tallest ratha in the world.
4) Ratha Yatra (Ahmedabad) – ratha yatra also takes place in Ahmedabad, Gujrat state, which is known to be the third largest in the world.
5) Sukinda Ratha Yatra in Odisha is also known to attract a large number of devotees.
6) Dhamrai Jagannath Rath at Dhamrai in Bangladesh is the most famous Ratha Yatra in Bangladesh.
7) ISKCON Dhaka Ratha Yatra is the second famous Ratha Yatra in Bangladesh.
8) People of Bastar region observe Ratha Yatra during Dussehara.
9) Radha Rani Ratha Yatra, held at the Radha Madhav Dham temple near Austin (Texas) in USA.
10) Ratha Yatra in Silicon Valley is organised at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California in USA.
11) Ratha Yatra in Baldevjew temple, Kendrapara ... The chariot is named as ‘Brahmataladwajha’ where Lord Baldejvjew is the presiding deity along with Lord Jagannath and Devi Subhadra.
Ending of the ceremony Ratha Yatra : After a tiring ‘Bahuda Yatra’ and ‘Suna Besha’ and a day before departure to Ratnasinghasan of Shree Mandira, the holy Trinity were offered a special drink called ‘Adhara Pana’, a special concoction of a sweet juice on their respective gigantic chariots today. In local language, ‘adhara’ means lip and ‘pana’ is a sweet-scented drink. The juice is offered as a token to the lips of the deities deified in their individual chariots to break their fast on ‘ekadashi’. The refreshing scented rich drink is generally made of an assortment of milk, cream, banana, cheese, black peeper, nutmeg, camphor mixed with extracts from holy basil and different types of spices and filled in nine large sizes open earthen barrels which reach up to their lips, three for each deity. The Raghavadas Matha, Odisha Matha and temple administration together contribute the pots and the drink for the occasion. The nine cylindrical tall earthen pots are specially designed by Kumbar servitors. The pots are traditionally supplied by designated families every year. The priests offer the drink to the deities by performing ‘Sodosha Upachar Pooja’. Once the puja gets over, as many as nine giant pots containing ‘Adhaar paana’ were offered to the holy trinity.
Soon after the offering, the barrels are smashed on the floor of chariots making Adhar Panna to spill all over the wooden floor. As per the rituals, the smashing of these earthen pots is made to ensure that devotees do not get it and all the evil spirits and the minor deities or the ‘Parsvadevatas’, present at the side of three chariots consume it and get satiated once they consume the ‘pana’. As per servitors, apart from ‘Parsvadevatas’, several ghostly bodies and souls who trail with the Lords during the Ratha Yatra, eagerly wait for this moment. It is believed that such evils attain salvation or ‘Moksha’ by drinking the holy drink which is spilled on the chariot decks. Large number of devotees throng ‘Badadanda’ to witness the ‘Adhara Pana’ ritual of the sibling deities. It is one of the main attractions during the annual Ratha Yatra.
A day after Lord Balabhadra, Mahaprabhu Jagannath and Devi Subhadra were offered ‘Adhara Pana’, on 12th day, ‘Niladri Bije’, the entry of deities into the ‘garbagriha’ of Srimandir is performed. ‘Niladri Bije’ is the concluding ritual of Ratha Yatra during which the deities are offered Rasagolla by servitors before the ‘Pahandi’ ceremony. Later the deities are escorted in ‘Goti Pahandi’ procession to Srimandir after ‘Sandhya Dhoopa’. In ‘Goti Pahandi’ procession, the deities move one after another, it means the next deity only moves from the chariot after the former deity reached the destination. Before entering the main temple, a traditional act between Lord Jagannath and Mahalaxmi was held at the main gate called the Jaya Vijaya door of the temple. Goddess Mahalaxmi, the consort of Lord Jagannath was angry as she was left in the main temple and was not a part of the trip to the Gundicha temple. She closes the temple gate on the face of Lord Jagannath and only allows Lord Balabhadra, Goddess Subhadra and Lord Sudarshana into the temple.
To appaease Mahalaxmi and to gain access to the temple, Lord Jagannath offers Rasogolla, a famous sweet of Odisha and requested her to forgive him. It is believed that Mahaprabhu offers sweet to appease Mahalaxmi, who is upset after being left alone at the Srimandir by the Holy Trinity. After a long conversation, Mahalaxmi finally convinced and opens the temple gate and allows Lord Jagannath inside. After that Jagannath is made to sit beside Lakshmi where a ritual of reunion is rehearsed and finally Lord Jagannnath ascends the Ratnasinghasana and rejoins his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra.
Finally, the homecoming ceremony of the deities to the temple is known as ‘Niladri Vijay’ or ‘Niladri Vije’ and ends the historic Ratha Yatra.