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The Spectacle of the ancient Ratha Yatra of Puri

Niranjan Bhombe

Madhvi Ojha

20 June 2023

"The sacred land of Puri, Odisha, also known as "Shri Khetra," or Purushottam Khetra is one of the four sacred dhams......"

.....In Skanda Purana & Brahma Purana, Lord Jagannatha is also referred to as Lord Purushottama and His sacred Abode, Puri, is named after the Lord Himself as Purushottama-kshetra:

"Although Lord Jagannatha is all pervading and is the source of all and there are also other holy places which destroy all sins, yet this holy place is superior as it has become the body of this Supreme Being. He Himself is present there assuming a Form and has indeed made that place known by His own name". (Skanda Purana, Utkala-khanda, Chapter 1, verses 8 & 9).

Lord Jagannath, residing in Puri, is revered as Lord of the Universe. The Lord is believed to possess the power to bless and protect all living beings, transcending boundaries and extending his divine grace to all.  It is said that visiting this sacred place and having darshan of Lord Jagannath can grant liberation and freedom from the cycle of birth and death.

The annual Rath Yatra, or Chariot Festival, held in Puri, attracts millions of devotees who gather to witness the grand procession of Lord Jagannath, accompanied by his siblings, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra. Among all the yatras, the Rath Yatra, also known as the Car Festival, is highly esteemed and celebrated as per the Puranas, the engineering marvel of designing and constructing the three grand chariots used in this festival is done by Vishwakarmas, the divine architect.

During the Rath Yatra, the deities Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, and Goddess Subhadra embark on a journey from the Shri Mandir (Jagannath Temple) to the Gundicha Temple (their aunt’s temple). This auspicious event is also referred to as Gundicha Mahotsav or Mahabedi Mahotsav. The chariots are beautifully adorned and devotees pull them with great enthusiasm and devotion, accompanied by joyous chants and music.

The Rath Yatra holds significant religious and spiritual importance, and it is believed that participating in this festival and having the opportunity to pull the chariots can bring immense blessings and spiritual fulfillment to the devotees.

The car of Lord Jagannath, known as Nandi Ghosa, Garudadhwaja, or Kapidhwaja, is a magnificent chariot with a height of 45 feet 6 inches. It is adorned with intricate decorations and has 16 wheels.

The car of Lord Balabhadra, called Taladhwaja, stands at a height of 45 feet and features 12 wheels. Like the other chariots, it is embellished with beautiful ornaments and motifs.

The chariot of Maa Subhadra is known as Darpadalan, Debadalana, or Padma Dhwaja. It has a height of 44 feet 6 inches and is equipped with 12 wheels. It is also embellished with artistic designs and decorations.

Devotees joyfully pull them through the streets while chanting and singing devotional songs, symbolizing the divine journey of the deities. The grandeur and size of these chariots add to the splendor and fervour of the Rath Yatra festival.

The car festival, known as Rath Yatra, commences on the second day of the bright lunar fortnight in the month of Ashadha and lasts for nine days. On the tenth day, the deities embark on their return journey to the Shri Mandir, which is known as Bahuda Yatra.

The inauguration of the chariots takes place on the first day, with the participation of Mandir priests and learned priests. The deities are beautifully adorned within their respective chariots according to a ceremonial practice known as Chitralagi.

After the preparations are complete, the Gajapati Raja, the King of Puri, performs the special ritual of Chera Pahara, which involves sweeping the chariots with a golden broom as a mark of humility and devotion.

Rath Yatra starts with Deva Snana Purnima, the celestial bathing ceremony of Lord Jagannath which takes place on the full-moon day of Jyestha month.

According to Skanda Purana, Raja Indradyumna performed this ritualistic bathing ceremony when he installed the wooden deities.

Here, the deities of Lord Jagannath, Devi Subhadra, and Lord Balabhadra are brought out of the Jagannath temple in a ceremonial procession to the decorated ‘Snana Bedi’, an elevated bathing altar in the Ananda Bazar on the north-east corner of outer wall, for a grand ritual bath. The bathing festival takes place in the morning hours of the Purnima day with one hundred and eight vessels filled with water. Prior to the ceremony, the idols of Lords are covered with silken fabric and smeared with red powder. Then water is poured on the Lords and the rituals are performed by chanting Vedic mantras and loud rejoicing. This ritual is known as "Jalabhisheka". Thereafter, the Gajapati king performs chhera pahanra (sweeping with a golden broom) around the deities on the bathing alter.

Following this, the deities are dressed in "elephant attire" popularly called "Hati Besha". Lord Jagannath and Balabhadra present themselves in the form of Ganesha and Devi Subhadra appears in Padma-besha (lotus attire).

After the holy bath, the Lords fall sick during their return journey from the Snana bedi as it is believed that they are in human form and are subjected to law of nature. Instead of returning to their ‘Ratna Singhasana’, they are taken inside a closed room, during this time the devotees are not allowed for darshan, the deities go through medical treatment during these days. This period is known as Anasara or Anavasara meaning improper time for worship. In reality, not only, the colors of the deities are washed away due to grand water bath but also the wooden idols are partially damaged. The period of Anasara is used for repairing and repainting of the images for a fresh and lively public view. Surprisingly, the wooden images of the lords are painted not by the traditional painters but by the Daitapatis, the descendants of the tribal king Viswabasu who worshiped Nilamadhaba, an early form of Lord Jagannath.

During the anasara period the representative of the deities on canvas are kept inside the sanctum. Three patta paintings (cloth paintings) of the Trinity in black, white, and yellow colors are worshiped. These are known as Anasara Patti and are made by the traditional patta painters of Odisha. The Anasara Patti represent the classical form of Narayan, Amanda and Bhubaneswari with their original attributes to represent Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra, respectively. The incomplete, Lord Jagannath appears as Nayaran with full limbs in Padmasana holding Sankha (conch), Chakra (wheel), Gada (club) and Padma (lotus flower) in his four hands. The patta paintings that replace the idols are as old as the Jagannath temple of Puri.

On the concluding day of anasara the deities dressed in the finest robes and ornaments appear before the millions of devotees. They themselves come out to give darshan to the devotees, this is the festival when the deities come out of the temple to give darshan to devotees.

The festival of reappearance of Lord Jagannath after anasara is called Nava Jauvan (rejuvenation). On the next day the finishing touches are given to the eyes of the Trinity, and the festival is called Netrotsava and the Lords begin their celestial vacation to their aunt Gundicha during the Rath Yatra, so the Rath go from Shri Mandir to Gundicha Temple, where Jagannath Swami’s aunt resides.

Finally, devotees gather to pull the chariots through the streets, an act of great reverence and joy. The devotees chant devotional songs and offer their heartfelt prayers during this auspicious procession.

The primary objective of the Rath Yatra is to foster togetherness among people and bring happiness to the devotees. It is a grand event where the deities, Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, and Goddess Subhadra, come out of the confines of the temple to offer their darshan (divine sight) to people from all communities and walks of life. This inclusive aspect of the Rath Yatra is deeply rooted in the belief that the divine beings are accessible to all, regardless of caste, creed, or social background.

The deities' procession through the streets during the Rath Yatra serves as a unifying force, attracting devotees from far and wide. People from diverse backgrounds come together, transcending societal barriers, to participate in the grand spectacle. It becomes a collective celebration of faith and devotion, fostering a sense of camaraderie and shared spiritual experience.

The darshan of the deities during the Rath Yatra is not only for the pleasure of the devotees but also for their spiritual upliftment and liberation. It is believed that catching a glimpse of the divine forms of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, and Goddess Subhadra during this auspicious occasion can bestow blessings, cleanse sins, and lead one on the path to salvation.

The Rath Yatra serves as a powerful reminder of the inherent unity among all beings and the divine's unconditional love and accessibility. It creates an atmosphere of joy, devotion, and spiritual aspiration, where devotees can find solace, inspiration, and a sense of purpose. The collective participation and shared experience during the Rath Yatra contribute to the spiritual growth and well-being of the devotees, fostering a sense of happiness, fulfilment, and liberation in their hearts and minds.

“Dole cha Dola Govindam, Chape cha Madhusudanam,Rathe tu vamanam drustwa punarjanma na vidyate”

An ardent seeker, who has the fortune to behold Lord Jagannatha, in form of Lord Govinda in the festival of Dola Purnima, Lord Madhusudan in Chandan Yatra and a glimpse of the Vamana, the “dwarf” form on the chariot (Ratha) is liberated from the bondage of birth and death. A glimpse of Lord Jagannatha on the chariot is considered to be very auspicious and saints, poets and scriptures have repeatedly glorified the sanctity of this special festival. Even a touch of the chariot or even the ropes with which these are pulled is enough to confer the results of several pious deeds or penance for ages.



1.    Sambad English Bureau, Lord Jagannath’s Suna Besha On Dola Purnima A Sight To Behold, SambadEnglish, March 9, 2020

2.    Dr. Bhaskar Mishra, Shri Gundicha Mahotsva ra Ananya Akarshana Dibya Triratha (Shri Gundicha Mahostav’s Special Attraction Divine Three Raths), Utkal Prasang July 2022

3.    Anchal Ayusmati, Bada Thakuranka Ghosa Yatra (Lord Jagannath’s Car Festival), Utkal Prasang, July 2022

Official Website of Shree Jagannath Temple Puri, Shri Jagannatha

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