Updated May 27th, 2024 at 14:30 IST

Rath Yatra 2024: The Tale Behind The Celebration Of This Festival

This festival's origins and the rituals involved are steeped in ancient myths, religious significance, and vibrant traditions.

Rath Yatra | Image:Freepik
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Rath Yatra is one of the most significant and celebrated festivals in India, particularly in the state of Odisha. The festival, held annually in the city of Puri, is dedicated to Lord Jagannath, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, along with his siblings, Balabhadra and Subhadra. The festival's origins and the rituals involved are steeped in ancient myths, religious significance, and vibrant traditions.

Mythological origins

The tale of Rath Yatra dates back to ancient Hindu scriptures. According to legend, the tradition started with King Indradyumna, a devout follower of Lord Vishnu, who was instructed in a dream to build a temple for the Lord in Puri. The king found the deities of Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra carved from sacred neem wood. These deities are distinctively unique, with large, expressive eyes and simple, yet powerful forms.

Another significant tale revolves around the concept of 'Brahma Paribartan,' which means the transfer of the divine soul. It is believed that the original form of Lord Jagannath contained a mysterious substance representing the soul, which is transferred from the old idol to the new one every twelve to nineteen years in a secretive midnight ceremony.

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Rath Yatra | Image: Freepik

The festival

Rath Yatra takes place in the month of Ashadha (June-July) on the second day of the waxing moon. The central event of the festival is the procession of the three deities from their abode, the Jagannath Temple, to the Gundicha Temple, located approximately 3 kilometres away. This journey commemorates the annual visit of Lord Jagannath to his birthplace.

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The deities are placed in grand, elaborately decorated chariots, or 'raths,' resembling temple structures. Lord Jagannath's chariot is called Nandighosa, Lord Balabhadra's is Taladhwaja, and Subhadra's is Darpadalana. These chariots are pulled by thousands of devotees who believe that pulling the raths will bring them divine blessings and absolution of sins.

Rituals and significance

The preparations for Rath Yatra begin months in advance, with the construction of the chariots being a significant aspect. Each year, new chariots are built from scratch using specific types of wood and traditional methods.

On the day of Rath Yatra, the Pahandi Bije ritual is performed, where the deities are ceremoniously brought out of the temple amidst chants, music, and dance. The Gajapati King of Puri, considered the first servitor of Lord Jagannath, performs the Chhera Pahanra ritual, where he sweeps the chariots with a golden broom, symbolising humility before the divine.

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Published May 27th, 2024 at 14:30 IST