The Legend & Legacy of Divine Journey: The Magnificence of Jagannath Rath Yatra

 The Legend & Legacy of Divine Journey: The Magnificence of Jagannath Rath Yatra

Rath Yatra is a celebration of the legends of the three sibling deities Jagannath who is known as Lord Krishna , Balaram who is also known as Balabhadra and their sister Subhadra. The statues of the deities of Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra are taken via procession through the streets via chariots. The festival is celebrated throughout the world but it is mostly famous in Jagannath temple in Puri , Orissa in India .It begins on the second day of Shukla Paksha every summer in the month of June or July. During this festival the three deities Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra are transported from their temple Puri to countryside garden place in Gundicha temple which is 2km away from Puri. The statues remain in Gundicha temple for nine days and are returned to Puri during Ulta Rath festival. They travel on ornate chariots which are huge temple sized structures . They are pulled by thousands of devotees. Artists , craftsmen and tailors stitch 1200 m  of cloth and are involved in making chariots. Traditional songs of Lord Krishna are sung which are accompanied by varieties of musical instruments like drums and flutes.

History of Rath Yatra

The Rath Yatra of lord Jagannath holds immense significance of history and religion which was rooted deeply in ancient mythology and the rich traditions of India. The Jagannath temple of Puri and the Ganpati Dynasty have shaped the Rath Yatra festival of Lord Jagannath in a significant way. The temple was considered as one of the pilgrimage sites in India, has been a centre of worship for centuries and has exerted considerable influence on the traditions and rituals of festivals. The Gajapati Dynasty had contributed to the festival’s grandeur and prominence in the region . Several reformers and rulers have contributed to the evolution and preservation of Rath Yatra throughout history. Emperor Akbar and King Chatrapati Shivaji had recognised the festival’s cultural significance and had made notable contributions to the celebration of the festival. The social reformers of India like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Swami Vivekanand emphasised the festival’s communal harmony and inclusiveness by shaping the perception and the reach. The Jagannath’s Rath Yatra is a powerful symbol of communal harmony and unity which transcends various religious boundaries. Devotees from diverse backgrounds , faiths and communities had come together to take part in the festivals by pulling chariots with the help of enthusiasm. It has served as a platform for fostering goodwill , understanding and peaceful coexistence among various groups of people by promoting a sense of harmony and oneness.

Origin of Rath Yatra

A few mythical stories related with the origins of Rath Yatra exist which reflect the socio religious thinking and beliefs of the people of the religion. Some of the chief ones are as follows:-

  1. Kansa the evil ruler of Mathura as well as Lord Krishna’s maternal uncle invited Lord Krishna Kanhaiya and Balaram to Mathura to kill them. Lord Krishna and Balaram rode on a chariot and left for Mathura. This day is celebrated as Rath Yatra by the devotees.
  2. When Lord Krishna Kanhaiya defeated his evil maternal uncle Kansa , euphoric devotees celebrated Rath Yatra by giving Lord Krishna and Balaram a darshan in Mathura in a chariot.
  3. When Lord Krishna and Balaram took their sister Subhadra for a chariot ride , to show the city’s splendour, devotees of Dwarka started celebrating Rath Yatra .
  4. Once Lord Krishna’s queens requested Rohini Devi for narrating the many interesting rasleela of Lord Krishna . When Rohini Devi’s daughter Subhadra heard the rasleela , Rohini Devi sent her daughter Subhadra away. Still Vrat Katha absorbed Subhadra along with Lord Krishna and Balaram. When Lord Krishna Kanhaiya, Balabhadra and Subhadra were engrossed in the story , Narad Muni arrived . When Narad Muni had found Lord Krishna Kanhaiya, Balabhadra and Subhadra standing motionless , he prayed “May the three of you grant darshan in this manner forever.” The boon was granted by Narad Muni. Lord Krishna Kanhaiya, Balabhadra and Subhadra resided in Puri Jagannath temple forever.
  5. During the 18 day battle of Mahabharata Lord Krishna disguised as Sarathi the driver of Pandava Prince Arjun’s chariot.
  6. When Lord Krishna was cremated , his brother Balaram became very sad with the development and rushed out to drown himself into the ocean with Lord Krishna’s partially cremated bodies. Subhadra also accompanied Balaram. During that time King Indrayamanu of Puri dreamt that Lord Krishna’s body would float up to the  shores of Puri. He should build a massive statue in the city and sanctify the wooden statues of Lord Krishna, Balaram and Subhadra.
  7. The bones of Lord Krishna’s body should be put in the hollow in the statue. The king found the splinters of bone and took them back. But he thought who could carve the statues. It was believed that God’s architect Vishwakarma disguised as a carpenter had come for carving the statues. He made it clear that when he would carve the statues, nobody should disturb him or else he would disappear by keeping the work pending.
  8. Several months had passed. The impatient king Indrayamanu opened Vishwakarma’s door who immediately disappeared from there keeping the work pending . Despite the unfinished statues the king sanctified them by placing Lord Krishna’s hollow cinders in the hollow of the statue and installed them in the temple.
  9. A majestic procession is carried out with the statues of Lord Krishna , Balaram and Subhadra every year. The huge chariots are pulled by the devotees from Janakpuri to the Jagannath temple of Puri. The statues are changed every 12 years .
  10. The Jagannath temple of Puri is the fourth sacred temple . The temples of Lord Jagannath is located in four directions of India:- Rameshwaram in South which is located at Tamil Nadu, Dwarka in West which is located at Gujarat, Badrinath in the north which is located at Uttarakhand and Puri in Odisha.

 Significance of Rath Yatra

The Jagannath’s Rath Yatra festival started with estimates ranging from 12th to 16th century. Stories and myths surrounded its origin. Some people say that  Rath Yatra representsLord Krishna Kanhaiya who came to visit his mother’s birthplace while other people say that  Rath Yatra started with King Indrayamanu who set up the rituals . The historical documents showed that the festival became important during the king Gajpati’s rule. Over the centuries Jagannath’s Rath Yatra had changed and grown but the core purpose had remained the same . It was a powerful symbol of Odisha’s rich culture and the deep faith of millions. At the heart of Jagannath’s Rath Yatra the symbolic journey lies in the three deities : Lord Jagannath , his elder brother Balabhadra and their sister Subhadra. It is believed that the deities had emerged from the confines of Puri’s Jagannath temple and had embarked on a ninth day sojourn to the Gundicha temple which is 3 kms away.

Rituals of Rath Yatra

During Rath Yatra people at Puri get up early in the morning and take bath. After taking bath, they offer prayer to Lord Jagannath and head towards Puri’s Jagannath temple. The massive chariots on which the Lord has to take out in a procession are lined up in the front of Puri’s Jagannath temple. Rath Yatra is celebrated according to the religious rituals  in India as well as in foreign countries. Jagannath’s Puri is the main source of all Rath Yatras . According to King Indrayamanu the idols of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra should be installed in the temple of Jagannath Puri .

Annesha Banerjee

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