Rath Yatra, Puri

India is a country where we witness multiplicity of traditions and culture. The country also offers a plethora of religious festivals and beliefs showcased in the most profound and spectacular manner, much to the delight and awe of the crowd and populace.

Rath Yatra, also known as the Car Festival is a festival of the Hindus, which is associated with Lord Jagannath and is celebrated with full splendor and ardor at Puri in the state of Orissa (aka Odisha), India. This festival commemorates the annual visit of the deity to Gundicha Mata’s temple via the aunt’s (Mausi Maa temple) home located near Balagandi Chaka in Puri. This festival is celebrated annually on Ashad Shukla Dwitiya (second day in bright fortnight of Ashad month). The festival will commence this year on 29th June and carry on for 21 days before final immersion.

Rath Yatra procession includes the deities of Lord Puri Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Subhadra who are taken out in a procession to Gundicha Temple and remain there for nine days. Then the deities or Rath Yatra return to Puri Jagannath temple. The return journey of Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra is known as Bahuda Yatra.

This bright and flamboyant festival attracts devotees from all across the country and abroad, who flock here in millions to pay their respects and catch a glimpse of their God. Lord Jagannath – the lord of the Universe, steps out to give Darshanto the devotees hailing from various factions of the society. lt is strongly prophesized and believed that all those who take part in the Car Festival earn their rightful passage to Heaven.

'Snana Purnima' marks the beginning of this spectacular festival. The day starts with the three deities—Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra taking a prolonged bath on an open platform known as 'Snana Bedi'. Once the ceremonial bath is complete, the deities retire for a period of 15 days, known as ‘Anabasara’ and remain in isolation. During this period, no public worship is performed. Post this period, the Gods step out of the temple in a colorful procession to board their respective Chariots, thus commences the much awaited journey known as Rath Yatra. Three richly decorated chariots, resembling temple structures, are pulled through the streets of Puri called Badadanda.

This day also allows non-Hindu and foreigners to get a glimpse of the deities, who otherwise feel forsaken for not being allowed to enter the temple premises. This festival also provides opportunities to ardent followers all over the worlds to visit Puri and fulfill their earnest desire to help pull the Lords' chariots with the help of other priests, already engaged in pulling these mammoth chariots with ropes, which is considered a most pious deed especially if one risks his life in huge crowd. One gets to hear the playing of devotional songs accompanied with drums, tambourines, trumpets etc., to give you a true festive feel amidst the colorful décor of the Juggernauts. The Rath carts, built anew every year are approximately 45 feet (14 m) high, and hauled by innumerable pilgrims to the tune of thousands. This Yatra is broadcast live on many Indian and foreign television channels, not to forget the websites which are also involved in live telecast of this annual Puri carnival.

A mere glimpse of Lord Jagannath on the chariot is considered to be very auspicious and saints, poets and scriptures have repeatedly venerated the sanctity of this special festival. Such is the sanctity of the festival that even a mere touch of any part of the chariot or even its ropes is considered enough to bestow the results of several pious deeds or penance for ages.

Travelers visiting Puri for witnessing the Rath Yatra should also pay visit to Konark, which is a small town in Puri. It lies on the coast by the Bay of Bengal, about 65 km from Bhubaneswar, the state capital of Orissa.

Konark is the historic site which nestles the 13th-century iconic Sun Temple, also known as the Black Pagoda. This temple was built in black granite during the reign of King Prathma Narasingha Dev, who instructed 1200 craftsmen to build a temple for Sun God. His investment in building this temple was equivalent to 12 years of revenue, not to forget the umpteen years that went into its completion. Bishu Moharana, was the head man of this team of 1200 craftsmen. This temple is considered a World Heritage Site.

This city of Konark is also home to an annual dance festival called the Konark Dance Festival, which is held during the month of December, each year. Purely a platform for classical Indian dance forms, this festival showcases the talent displayed by famous and upcoming dancers. A historic episode occurred on 16th of February 1980, when Konark lay directly in the path of a total solar eclipse.

No visit can be termed as complete if you don’t see the magnificent Chilika Lake, known worldwide for its historic significance and other chief reasons which include its massive contribution to balancing the overall ecosystem. It is the largest wintering ground for migratory birds within the Indian sub-continent, which hosts more than 160 species of birds during the peak migratory season. According to a survey, 45 percent of the birds that one sees here are terrestrial in nature, 32 percent are waterfowl, and the balance 23 percent comprises of waders. It is also home to 14 different types of raptors and around 152 rare and endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins. Not to forget the 37 species of reptiles and amphibians which thrive on this hospitable soil.

Interestingly, Chilika is the largest coastal lagoon in India and the second largest lagoon in the world.

Orissa is a land famous for art, architecture and well known for being the most populous Adivasi (tribes) region of India. Puri is hence recommended to all those who wish to transport themselves to a land rich in history and cultural diversity. Air connectivity to Puri is easy as the nearest airport is located at Bhubaneswar, at a mere distance of 56 Km. Trains too ply from all major destinations and connect the tourists directly with Puri at its local Railway station. Puri offers its guests a variety of accommodation to suit their budget and taste.