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:
On the second day of the Shukla Paksha (waxing phase of moon or bright fortnight) Ashadh month, as per traditional Oriya Calendar. In 2014, Rath Yatra commences on June 29 and ends on July 7.
Where is Rath Yatra Celebrated:
At the Jagannath temple in Puri, Orissa.
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).
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 2014?:
- Sri Gundicha: June 29. 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 3. 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 7. The grand return journey to the Lion's Gate entrance of Jagannath Temple. The chariots are drawn in reverse order.
- Suna Besha: July 8. Decoration of the deities in gold ornaments. (This is a particularly popular ritual).
- Adhar Pana: July 9. Offering the deities a healthy support drink.
- Niladri Bije: July 10. 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.
Find out more in this Rath Yatra Festival Photo Essay.
Interesting Information About Lord Jagannath:
The idol of Lord Jagannath doesn't have any arms and legs. Do you know why? It was carved out of wood by a carpenter after the Lord came to the King in a dream, and instructed him to get the idol made. Apparently, if anyone saw the idol before it was finished, the work would not progress any further. The King became impatient and took a peek. Hence, the idol not having arms and legs!