The Ratha Yatra

In the books of writers such as Neil Gaiman and Kevin Hearne, one may find gods and humans interspersed evenly amongst the denizens of the Earth. Outside the pages of fantasy however, it may be a rare sight indeed to see gods out on the streets.

One street in particular, jumps out to become part of our narrative here. The wide Badadanda, which could accommodate thirty-two lanes of vehicles, is usually choked into relative narrowness by shops of various calibers, except in the Dwitiya (second) of the Shukla Paksha (Bright Lunar fortnight) in the month of Ashadh every year.

This road is in a town called Puri, which you may know from the Jagannath Temple, of Char Dham fame, and is connected to the very same. In that specific time period every year, the road is travelled upon by the resident gods of the Temple; Balabadhra, Jagannath, Shubhadra, and Sudarshan, to the Gundicha temple on the other end. The deities stay and are worshipped in the main temple throughout the year except in the above nine days when they stay at the Gundicha temple which is believed to be their birthplace.

The journey to, is known as Gundicha Yatra, and from, is called the Bahuda Yatra. Together, they comprise the Chariot Festival – Ratha Yatra. As legend has it, the deities were fashioned out of Neem by Vishwakarma at the Gundicha Temple during the reign of King Indradumna and the eponymous queen. Later on, the deities were installed in the main Puri temple in the presence of Lord Brahma. It was the wish of the queen, that the deities visit their birthplace once a year.

And so, the deities ride out in massive chariots to span that distance, freely amongst all celebrant denizens of the world irrespective of their caste, creed or religion. Numerous rituals accompany this trip, one of which calls for the Maharaja of Puri to sweep the first flecks of dust out of the way of the chariots, cleansing the path (Chhera Panhara) and reinforcing the ideal of equality of all humans in the cosmic perspective.

Another, is an amusing legend which comes into play at the end of the Ratha Yatra. Lord Jagannath is an aspect of Vishnu, and the eagle-eyed may notice the conspicuous absence of his wife, Goddess Lakshmi from this trip. Upon his return, therefore, Jagannath finds himself facing her ire, with the doors to the Temple barred to his entry. Only after the delivery of an apology sweetened by the thoughtful addition of her favorite sweets do the doors open once more.

The three multicolored chariots are constructed anew every year. Nearly 125 people comprising temple carpenters and their assistants work for 58 days and fashion 2188 pieces of timber from the forests of Odisha for this purpose. Each chariot contains nine subsidiary deities (Parsha Devatas), two door keepers (Dwarapala), one charioteer (Sarathi) and one deity for the top flag (Dhwaja Devata), all shaped out of wood.

Each chariot is clothed in radiant colours, nearly 1090 meters of cloth being used for this purpose. Four long ropes manufactured from coconut fiber are fastened to each chariot, by means of which devotees pull them across the Badadanda.

Details of the chariots:

Presiding Deity: Balabadhra Jagannath Shubhadra and Sudarshan
Name of the chariot: Taladhwaja Nandighosha Devadalana
Height: 45 ft 45′-6” 44-6”
Length/breadth: 33’x33′ 34′-6”x34′-6” 31′-6”x31′-6”
Number of wheels: 14 16 12
Colour: Green and red Yellow and red Black and red
Number of horses: 4, Black in colour 4, white 4, red

A plot point couching the story of the festival is the Deva Snana Purnima, also known as the ‘Snanayatra’, an auspicious bathing festival for Lord Jagannath. It is observed on the Purnima (Full moon day) of the Jyeshtha month. This is the first occasion in the year when the deities leave the Temple and are taken on a procession to the Snana Bedi (A raised platform on which the deities are placed for conducting the bathing ceremony.)

This day is also believed to be the birthday of Lord Jagannath. The deities are bathed by 108 pitchers of water from a well inside the Temple premises. According to legend, it is believed that after the ritualistic snana, the deities get feverish and recuperate for fifteen days out of the public eye (Anasara.) The Ratha Yatra is their public reappearance, and is hence an event where all who would wish to, may come and pay their respects.

Written by: Nishant Sahoo and Vivek Mahapatra

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