The Puri Rath Yatra festival in India can be counted amongst the grandest and the biggest festivals of the world. The main highlight of the Puri Rath Yatra festival in India is the sacred journey of the deity and with brother and sister from the main Puri temple to the Gundicha Temple. In this temple, they stay for 9 long days. The deity of the Puri Rathyatra is Lord Jagannath and his brother and sister are Balabhadra and Subhadra respectively. The three deities are carried in mammoth sized traditional chariots which are pulled by hundreds and thousands of devotees. Thus, the Puri rath yatra or chariot journey makes for a spectacular scene that draws tourists from different parts of the globe.
When is Puri festival celebrated?
The Puri rathyatra follows the lunar calendar and begins on day 2 of the lunar month each year. The celebrations commence on the second day of the fortnight in June/July. The celebration goes on for 10 days.
Spiritual significance of the festival
This popular annual festival of India commemorates the chariot journey of Lord Krishna from Gokul to Mathura. The spiritual symbolization of Puri rath yatra is the journey from darkness to the light.
Procedure of Puri rath yatra
The first phase of the chariot festival in Puri is marked by Chandan Yatra when a ritual called Chandan Yatra is followed. The deities are carried for a ceremonial boat ride in Narendra Tank for twenty one consecutive days after they are given a fragrant sandal wood bath. After this ritual follows the Snana Yatra when the deities are carried to the Snana Badi bathing platform and bathed ceremonially with hundred and eight pitchers of water. The deities are then offered ayurvedic medicine along with a liquid diet called sarapana. Pilgrims are not allowed to get a view of this 15 day ritual.
The boarding of the three deities onto their chariots is announced with loud gongs and that’s also when the king or the Raja of Puri arrives with his procession of bejeweled elephants. He then sweeps the chariots clean using a golden bloom. The procession of this mammoth chariot festival is led by Balabhadra's chariot, closely followed by Subhadra’s and then Lord Jagannath's. The chariots are pulled by some 4000 devotees. Enroute, the deites are offered a special cake called Podapitha which had been offered at goddess Aradhamsini’s shrine, who in relation is the aunt of Lord Jagannath. On reaching the Gundicha Ghar or the garden house of the temple, the devotees get to see and offer their prayers to the deities. After 8 days, the deities are carried back to the Jagannath Temple of Puri in an equally grand procession.
Deities and their chariots
The chariots of the Puri rath yatra festival in India resemble a temple sanctuary, draped in bright colored clothes. Lord Jagannath's chariot with 16 wheels is the tallest chariot at 13 m. The yellow faced deity is Subhadra is seated in a red chariot and the white faced deity Balabhadra is seated on a chariot which is pulled by 4 horses and14 wheels.