Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Chariot Festival at Puri

- By Aishwarya Javalgekar

It is July now, and all eyes in Odisha are turned towards the Jagannath Temple, waiting for the grand procession of the Rath Yatra (Journey of Chariots).

Puri Rath Yatra (Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons)
Beginning on 18th July, three chariots will go on a procession from the Jagannath Temple to the Gundicha Temple, where they will remain for seven days. The chariots will return to the Jagannath temple on 26th July, marking the end of the Rath Yatra.

The Jagannath Temple in Puri is an important pilgrimage destination for Hindus all over India. The temple's origins are mentioned in the ancient Puranas, and several religious gurus and sects have made Puri their home. It is believed that a journey to Puri will free a pilgrim from the cycle of rebirth, and lead him to salvation.  

Jagannath (meaning Lord of the Universe) is associated with Lord Krishna. The legend goes like this: When Krishna was accidentally killed by a hunter, some devotees found his body and stored the bones. Later, Lord Vishnu directed a king called Indrayumna to make a statue and place the bones inside it. Vishwakarma was asked to make the statue. He agreed on the condition that he be given complete privacy till the work was complete. But the king and queen grew impatient and visited the site while Vishwakarma was at work. This upset him, and he left the statues undone. Even today, Jagannath is depicted without hands and feet.

In Puri, Lord Jagannath is worshipped as a part of a triad, along with his brother Balbhadra and his sister Subhadra. 
(From left to right) Idols of Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagannath (Picture taken from
Three idols are taken in enormous chariots, built specially for this festival. The chariots are richly decorated, and are drawn by the devotees who join the yatra (journey or pilgrimage). This festival attracts a large number of people, both from India and abroad. There is music and chanting, creating a colourful and euphoric atmosphere.
The three chariots being drawn during Puri Rath Yatra, 2007 (Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons)
Once the ceremony is over, the chariots are broken down and converted into religious relics. New chariots are made from scratch and beautifully decorated every year.They are a reference to the Bhagvad Gita, a sacred text of the Hindus. The festival is steeped in symbolism and carries forth ancient rituals that have remained much unchanged for centuries.

This year, the Rath Yatra will be even more special. The three patron deities will be given a new physical form. This only happens once in 12 to 19 years! The new idols will be carved from the Neem (Margossa) tree and consecrated in the temple.

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