The Rath Yatra festival is based around the worship of Lord Jagannath (a reincarnation of Lords Vishnu and Krishna). It commemorates his annual visit to his birthplace, Gundicha Temple, and aunt's home.
When is Rath Yatra Celebrated:
Where is Rath Yatra Celebrated:
How is Rath Yatra Celebrated:
The exuberant Rath Yatra festival sees Lord Jagannath, along with his elder brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra, venture out of their abode in the Jagannath Temple. The three of them travel to Gundicha Temple around three kilometers away. They remain there for seven days before returning via Mausi Maa Temple, the abode of Lord Jagannath's aunt.
The gods are transported on towering chariots, which have been made to resemble temples, giving the festival its name of Rath Yatra -- the Chariot Festival. Around one million pilgrims flock to this colorful event.
What Rituals are Performed During Rath Yatra:
The Rath Yatra is a community festival. People don't worship in their houses or fast.
Every year, three huge new chariots are made for the festival. (See the Rath Yatra chariot construction). The deities are bathed, dressed, and placed in their respective chariots, which are waiting for them at the Lion's Gate entrance of the Jagannath Temple. Amidst the beating of drums and gongs, and the blowing of conch shells, thousands of devotees pull the chariots through the streets to the Gundicha Temple. People come from far off places to take part in the event each year.
When the gods return, they're decorated and adorned with ornaments of pure gold and given a nourishing drink, before being placed back inside the Jagannath Temple.
An entertaining comic scene is enacted for onlookers, as part of the grand finale. Goddess Lakshmi is angry that her husband, Lord Jagannath, has stayed away for so long without inviting or informing her. She closes the doors of the temple on him, locking him out. Finally, he manages to placate her with sweets, and she relents and lets him enter.
What are the Ritual Dates for 2013?:
- Sri Gundicha: July 10. Placement of the deities in the chariots and journey to Gundicha Temple. The first chariot to move is that of Lord Balabhadra. Next is Subhadra's, and last Lord Jagannath's.
- Hera Panchami: July 14. Goddess Lakshmi, the wife of Lord Jagannath, gets concerned because he hasn't come back. Irritated, she goes to Gundicha Temple to find him and see what's going on.
- Bahuda Yatra: July 18. The grand return journey to the Lion's Gate entrance of Jagannath Temple. The chariots are drawn in reverse order.
- Suna Besha: July 19. Decoration of the deities in gold ornaments. (This is a particularly popular ritual).
- Adhar Pana: July 20. Offering the deities a healthy support drink.
- Niladri Bije: July 21. Deities are placed back inside the Temple.
What Can Be Expected at the Rath Yatra Festival:
The Rath Yatra festival is the only occasion when non-Hindu devotees, who aren't allowed inside the temple, can get their glimpse of the deities. A mere glimpse of Lord Jagannath on the chariot, or even to touch the chariot, is considered to be very auspicious.
The massive number of devotees that flock to the festival does pose a safety risk. Lives are often lost in the immense crowd, so extra care should be taken.