Rath yatra is a major festival of the Hindus which commemorates the annual visit of Lord Jagannath to Gundicha Mata’s temple. It is held at puri every year in Odisha. It is the festival of chariots of shri Jagannath and his elder brother lord Balaram and younger sister goddess subhadra and is celebrated annually on Ashadh Shukla Dwitiya, day of shukla pakshya. The month of Ashadh is the 3rd month in Lunar calendar and shukla paksha refers to the waxing cycle of moon. The sanctity and holiness of the Rath yatra is described with divine attribution in the madalapanji- the holy chronicle of the temple of lord jagannath. The sknada purana also immensely illuminates the glories of this festival. This festival is also known by several other nemes such as Gundicha yatra, Dasavatara Yatra, Ghosa Yatra etc. The festival marks the auspicious visit of Lord Jagannath from the temple shrine of Jagannath Puri to the Gundicha temple near Balagandi square in puri. Where the there deities remain for nine days. The distance between the two temple is about 2 km.
On The day of Rath yatra, several traditional rituals are performed before the grand procession of the chariots on the Badadanda (Streets of puri). The pahandi vije of the three deities is very unique in which the decorated deities are taken to the chariots by the pardas, padiharies and the Daitapatis. All the chariots are broomed by the maharaja Gajapati, Continuing the tradition and it is known as chhera pahara. The chariots are constructed and decorated as per certain specifications. These are built anew each year only from a particular type of tree as per the traditions like phassi, dhausa. A team of carpenters (maharanas) having hereditary rights and high level of expertise is engaged for the constriction of the chariots. The huge chariots resemble with temples and are lined in front of the Singhadwara (close to the eastern entrance of the holy temple).
Nanidghose - The chariot of Lord Jagannath is 45 feet high and 45 feet wide at the wheel level : It has 16 wheels with a diameter of seven foot each. It is covered with red and yellow cloth. The yellow stands for the yellow robes of the Lord who is also known as pitambara.
Taladhwaja - The chariot of Lord Balaiam is 44 feet high. It has 14 wheels with a diameter of sever-feet each. It is covered with red and blue cloth.
Devadalana/Dwarpadalana - The chariot of subhadra is 43 feet high with 12 wheels with a diameter of seven-foot each. It is covered with red and black cloth.
One can see a set of 4 horses with different colours attached to each chariot. The horses attached to the chariot of Lord Balaram are white ones where as the horse attached to the chariot of lord jagannath are Black and those attached to the chariot of goddess subhadra are red ones. Nine painted wooder images representing different deities are placed around each of the chariot. Sarathi is the charioteer as Daruka for the chariot of lord Jagannath, Matali for the chariot of lord Balabhadra and Arjune for the chariot of goddess subhadra. It is believed that this yatra is very sacred and unique it is the grandest festival of lord jagannath who is identified with Lord Krishna and he was taken this incarnation for emancipation of mankind and to impart them moksha or salvation The Lord Comes out from his holy temple for redeeming the patiatajana- the fallen and destitutes. Ironically, this is the only day when the non-Hindus and foreigners can have a glimpse of the deities. Pulling the Lord’s chariots with rope along with other priests is considered to be very pious. The chariots are the symbols of high philosophical and spiritual values. The kathopanishada explains that the body is the chariot and the soul is like the deity. The Charioteer is the wisdom that acts to control the mind and thought. This day witnesses a great congregation of devotees from all over the country and abroad. The devotees consider that even a touch of the chariot or even the rope is enough to fetch the virtues for ages.
This famous festival also spreads a social massage of equality with no discrimination. It also symbolizes integration of many human values and virtues. The Lord himself come among the devotees breaking all the barriers and provides an opportunity to have a glimpse of him and to seek his blessing by which the soul can be liberated from the vicious cycle of birth and rebirth. It is also a great force of unity irrespective of caste, colour, religion and Status. It also spreads the message of harmony, fraternity and togetherness for a happy, peaceful and blissful living.
Last your it was celebrated on the 10th of July (Wednesday) and in 2014 it is going to be celebrated on the 29th of June (Sunday). The Rath yatra car festival is broadcast live on many Indian/foreign T.V. channels and website.