Ratha Yatra, the annual chariot (Ratha) festival is held in many parts of India and also in some parts of the world. The Puri Ratha Yatra festival is the oldest and the most famous among all. During this festival Lord Jagannath along with his elder brother Balabhadra and younger sister Subhadra starts for a grand journey to their masi’s (aunt) house which is the Gundicha Temple situated at a distance of 2 km from the main Jagannath temple. The grand procession from one temple to the temple is held every year with much pomp and grandeur and is called the Ratha Yatra.
I was in Puri a few days before this auspicious occasion of Ratha Yatra. The ever-busy city gets a new makeover during this festival but the preparations start days ahead of the ultimate day of the Ratha Yatra. Three chariots for the respective Gods are prepared every year with wood from specified trees. The logs are collected from the specific place and are set afloat in Mahanadi and then brought to the temple area by road.
The deities are carried to their respective chariots through the Singhadwar of the temple. Thousands of devotees from across the world wait impatiently outside the temple to take part in this grand festival. The chariot is pulled by the devotees with the help of thick ropes. The chariots then move through the street of Puri called Badadanda till it reaches the destination for a week at Gundicha Temple. After the stay of a week at the aunt’s house, the Gods return to the main temple.
Three chariots have different names, the chariot of Lord Jagannath is known as Nandighosha, that of Lord Balabhadra is known as Taladhwaja and that of Goddess Subhadra is known as Devadalana. Each chariot is attached with four horses which are of different colours, dark for Balarama, white for Jagannatha and red for Subhadra. Daruka, Matali and Arjuna are the respective charioteers for Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra.
The chariots are covered with red, green, black and yellow cloth and adorned with leaves and flowers. The chariots can be identified by their colour and height. The tallest Ratha belongs to Lord Jagannath which is forty-five feet high with the canopy of red and yellow cloth. The chariot of Lord Balabhadra is forty-four feet high covered with the red and green cloth while that of Goddess Subhadra is the smallest of the three with the height of forty-three feet covered with red and black cloth.
The temple shaped richly adorned large chariots are drawn by mass of devotees who gather here to ward off their sins by the very tough of the chariots or the rope. This is a faith that is carried on for generations, one who pulls the rope or even touches the rope of the chariot is showered with divine blessings and attain salvation.
The preparations were on with great enthusiasm as a few days were left of this grand festival. The chariots were not yet ready, workers were toiling hard to construct this magnificent vehicle. Piles of logs were accumulated on one side of the roadway near the temple through which the prepared vehicle of the Lords will roll on. I only had the picture of the chariots were made but not of the final decorated Rathas so I had to lend the cover picture from Wikipedia.
I was not fortunate enough to be a part of this festival but was blessed enough to see the preparation, to see how a large number of people participate to make the huge, sturdy and spectacular chariot that carries the Gods. This is a festival of masses where people of all class gather to be blessed by touching the rope of the chariots. Faith that keeps us going, faith that brings hope, faith that let us live. Let this faith bring peace in this universe, let this faith brotherhood and love and let this Ratha Yatra bring happiness and prosperity to all.