FACTS & FIGURES
Time of the year - June/July
Places to Visit - All over Orissa, mainly Puri
Duration - One Day
One of the four most famous holy pilgrimages of the Hindus in India is the Jagannath Temple of Puri. The festival of Rath Yatra celebrated here, is world famous for the enormous crowd of devotees that gathers to witness Lord Jagannath's yearly journey in his huge chariot. Perhaps the only deity to be brought out of the temple every year, Lord Jagannath, with his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra, goes to his garden house for five days, visiting his aunt on the way. At the end of the five days, the three siblings are brought back to the Jagannath temple in a procession called the Ultarath.
As the preparations for the procession begin, all routine activity in the town comes to a standstill. The temple kitchen - the largest in the world - serves more than 75 quintals of rice everyday along with 55 other dishes. These are offered to the gods in the temple and later distributed as Mahaprasad to the devotees.
Amidst the resounding clash of cymbals, and the tumultuous thundering of drums, the three gods, Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra leave their abode, the Jagannath temple, to journey to the Gundicha Mandir, three kilometers away. Millions of devotees flock to the town to watch the trinity ride in their elaborate chariots through the streets of Puri. On all auspicious occasions, special ceremonies and rituals are performed replete with pomp and splendor in the temples of Puri, but nothing matches that of the Rath Yatra.
Since the portals of the Jagannath temple allow entry only to Hindus, one of the gods, Maitri Devta, who symbolizes universal brotherhood, steps outside during this time so people of all religions and castes can pay obeisance. A spiritual ambience pervades the whole scene as bells chime; conch shells blow and the saffron robed sadhus dance with abandon. It is fascinating to watch the delirious masses paying homage to the Lord as the chariots move on almost as if propelled by a divine force.
According to tradition and folklore, the origin of the Jagannath cult is tribal, where the god was symbolized as a log of wood signifying growth, procreation and tolerance. The Vedic period saw him emerge with a wooden stump-like structure for a body and large round eyes representing the sun and the moon- the ultimate sources of life and light. Even today the mystique of Jagannath lies in its shape. It is portrayed as a stumpy body with large prominent eyes on a shield-like face.
There is an interesting story about how Lord Jagannath, one of the various forms of Krishna, came to take this shape. The image of Lord Jagannath is said to have been created by Vishwakarma himself. Commissioned by Lord Vishnu to create this idol, Vishwakarma promised he would dazzle the gods by his creation but only if he was able to work alone unseen. Many months passed. Getting impatient, Lord Vishnu forced open the doors. The image was ready but the arms were incomplete. Even today Lord Jagannath stands in the temple with two stumps for arms.
Many believe that dying under the wheels of the chariot of Lord Jagannath would give them instant Moksh. Even today, the police keep an eye for those wanting to take this route to salvation. Tracing its origin to this belief is the English word juggernaut, which denotes a huge vehicle that would crush anything that comes in its way. However, the name Jagannath, from which juggernaut has been derived, means 'the Lord of the world'.
PLACES TO VISIT
Without doubt, the best place to visit during this festival time is Puri, situated a few kilometers away from Bhubaneshwar, the capital of the state of Orissa.