Jagannath Rath Yatra- the Cart Festival is one of the biggest festivals in India. Considering COVID-19 pandemic situation, the Supreme Court allowed the annual Rath Yatra to be held with coordination of temple committee members, states and central government without including public attendance.
The SC also said that the Odisha government can even stop the yatra or festivities if the situation goes out of hand.
What is the Significance of the Jagannath Rath Yatra?
Lord Jagannath (the Lord of the Universe derived from the Sanskrit words – Jagat meaning Universe and Nath meaning Lord) leaves his abode along with siblings Balabhadra and Subadhra for Gundicha Mata’s Temple, a monument built in the memory of Queen Gundicha, wife of King Indradyumna who built the world-famous Puri temple.
After spending about a week at the Gundicha temple, the trio of Jagannath, Balbhadra and Subhadra return to the Jagannath temple. This ceremony is called Bahuda Yatra. Devotees pull the three beautifully decorated giant chariots which carry the idols of the three main deities. The chariots have a distinct look and name.
Here are some interesting facts on cart festival:
None other than Hindus are allowed to enter the gates of Puri Jagannath temple to worship. But is open to anyone irrespective of caste and religion during Rath Yatra festival.
It is said Lord Jagannath catches high fever year on the year prior to the Rath yatra. Hence he is given rest for a period of one week before the chariot festival.
The temple doors remain shut for the public and none is allowed to disturb the resting Lord during this period. The chariot procession comes as a change for the Lord to visit his maternal aunt’s house after he recovers from his fever.
The names of these three chariots are Nandighosha, Taladhwaj and Devaladana. The Rath yatra sees the procession of three independent chariots for the three deities of Jagannath, Balarama and Subhadra. Thus the event is also called the festival of chariots.
The ritual of bringing the idols of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra out of the temple and installing them in their respective chariots is called Pahandi.
The King (known as the Gajapati), dresses like a sweeper and cleans the road with a golden-handled broom and water scented with sandalwood paste.
This ritual is known as the Chera Pahara. It is repeated on the last day of the Yatra- Bahuda.
When the festival begins, Lord Jagannath seems to refuse moving out. Despite the efforts of the crowds, the chariot cannot be moved even an inch forward. After a few hours of mammoth efforts, finally, the chariot moves forward to trigger the procession’s onward Gundicha Mandir.
On the fifth day of the festival, Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Jagannath visits the Gundicha temple to meet her husband. Missing the Lord, She goes to see Lord Jagannath and this day is called Hera Panchami. ‘Hera’ means ‘to see’ and ‘Panchami’ means the ‘fifth day’.
The deities begin their return journey on Ashadha Shukla Paksha Dashami after 8 days of Rath Yatra. This custom is known as Bahuda. It is also called Dakshinabi-mukhi.
The concluding rituals of the Yatra called Suna Besha is conducted on the tenth day. Suna Besha is a ritual when the Gods are decorated with gold ornaments.
A day after Suna Besha, an interesting ritual is performed called Adhara Pana. The exact translation of Adhara Pana is Lip and Pana – Juice, is performed on Asadha Sukla Pakhya Dwadashi.
During this ritual, the terracotta pots are placed with 100 litres of a mixture of milk, cream, cheese, banana, black pepper, camphor, nutmeg and some more ingredients. These are then broken to liberate the souls/spirits and other invisible beings residing in the chariots.
Finally, on the eleventh day, deities return to Sri Mandir, but the angry goddess- Lakshmi Maa, does not open the gate. Lord Jagannath offers Rasagola as a sweet present to Goddess Lakshmi to earn her favour and to regain entry.