calendar icon Tue, June 20, 2023

Touted as the world’s largest chariot (a chariot is called rath in Hindi) festival, the Rath Yatra in the temple town of Puri marks the annual procession of Lord Jagannatha along with his brother Lord Balabhadra and sister Goddess Subhadra from their temple Srimandira to the Gundicha Temple, which is believed to be the Lord’s garden house and birthplace (two miles away), in elaborately decorated chariots. It is one of the biggest festivals in Odisha and is attended by thousands of devotees and followers of the deities. 

The festival is celebrated on the second day of Asadha, the first month of the Indian monsoon. The chariots used for transporting the deities are decorated with flowers, paintings, small statuettes, wood carvings and brass engraving. 

The act of bringing the wooden idols of the deities out of the Srimandira and Lord Jagannatha’s journey towards the chariot is a treat to the eyes. Decorated with large heart-shaped floral crowns (called tahia), the deities are carried in a step-by-step motion known as pahandi towards the chariot amidst a sea of devotees. This procession is accompanied by loud sounds of trumpets and cymbals. It is generally considered auspicious to catch a glimpse of Lord Jagannatha but to do so when the Lord is in his chariot is considered a blessing. 

The 45-ft-high chariot of Lord Jagannatha called Nandighosa is the largest of the three chariots with 16 wheels. The chariot can easily be distinguished by the yellow stripes on its canopy. The chariots of Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra are called Taladhwaja (44 ft high) and Darpadalana (43 ft high), respectively. The chariots are lined up in front of Srimandira’s east entrance known as Sinhadwara or the Lion’s Gate. 

After the deities are placed in their respective chariots, the Gajapati king of Puri sweeps and cleans every chariot and offers prayers to the lords. This ceremony is called chhera pahanra. After this, the chariots begin to move along the Bada Danda (or grand avenue) being pulled by devotees. The chariot stops at the Gundicha Temple where the deities stay for a week before journeying back to Srimandira on their respective chariots in a ceremony called Bahuda Yatra.