Shri Jagannath Mahaprabhu lord of the Universe is the supreme solace and saviour of countless devotees around the world. since time immemorial, His monumental and magnificent Shrine at Shri Purusottam-Kshetra (Puri, Orissa) one of the four major Dhamas of India has been a most sacred centre of pilgrimage and worship symbolising and uploading one of the greatest spiritual and cultural heritages of the world.
The most frrequently depicted theme involves the holy Triad of the Jagannath Temple – Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra
The three chariots of Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagannatha are newly constructed every year with wood of specified trees like phassi, dhausa, etc. customarily brought from the ex-princely state of Dasapalla, by a specialist team of carpenters who have hereditary rights and privilege for the same. The logs are traditionally set afloat as rafts in the river Mahanadi. These are collected near Puri and then transported by road.
The three chariots, newly constructed every year and decorated as per the unique scheme prescribed and followed for centuries stand on the Bada Danda, the Grand Avenue. Covered with a bright canopies made of stripes of red cloth combined with those of black, yellow and blue colours, the huge chariots are lined across the wide avenue right in front of the majestic temple close to its eastern entrance, also known as the Sinhadwara or the Lion’s Gate.
Lord Jagannatha’s Chariot is called Nandighosa. It is forty-five feet high and forty-five feet square at the wheel level. It has sixteen wheels, each of seven feet diameters, and is decked with a cover made of red and yellow cloth. Lord Jagannatha is identified with Krishna who is also known as Pitambara, the one attired in golden yellow robes and hence the distinguishing yellow stripes on the canopy of this chariot.
The Chariot of Lord Balabhadra, called the Taladhwaja, the one with the Palm Tree on its flag, has fourteen wheels, each of seven feet diameters and is covered with red and blue cloth. Its height is forty-four feet.
The Chariot of Subhadra, known as Darpadalana, literally trampler of pride, is forty-three feet high with twelve wheels, each of seven feet diameters. This Chariot is decked with a covering of red and black cloth, black being traditionally associated with Shakti and the Mother goddess.
Around each of the chariots are nine Parsva devatas, painted wooden images representing different deities on the chariots’ sides. Each of the chariots is attached with four horses. These are of different colours – white ones for Balabhadra, dark ones for Jagannatha and red ones for Subhadra. Each chariot has a charioteer called Sarathi. The three charioteers attached to the chariots of Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra respectively are Matali, Daruka and Arjuna.
The Festival and The Journey
At last the appointed day for the great Festival of chariots arrives. It is Asadha Shukla Dwitiya, the second day in the bright fortnight of the first monsoon month of the Indian seasonal calendar. It is typically in late June in normal years but every few years, after adjustment of the solar and lunar calendars, with a double Baisakha, this occurs in July. The presiding deities of the temple Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra, in a unique reversal of roles of the seeker and the sought, set out from within the sanctum of the temple to mingle with millions of their devotees.
The Pulling of Chariots
The final ritual in the celebration is the pulling of the chariots. The chariot of Lord Balabhadra is pulled first followed by that of goddess Subhadra. At last the grand moment and the climax of the day’s celebration is reached when the chariot of Lord Jagannatha, Nandighosha starts its spectacular journey to the Gundicha temple. Thousands of devotees who patiently wait the whole day for this blessed moment are ecstatic with joy and pull the chariots with a sense of fulfillment.
In ancient times, the Ratha Yatra of Puri employed six chariots as compared to the three at present times. A river once flowed between the Gundicha House and the Jagannatha temple. Three chariots stayed in readiness on the other side of the river to receive the deities from the three chariots that transported them from the main temple.
Bahuda, the Return Festival
There, in their Garden House, adapa mandapa, also known as their place of birth, the deities stay for seven days. On the ninth day of the festival, Bahuda Jatra, the grand return journey takes place. On the way back they stop for a short while and partake of poda pitha, a type of cake made of rice, lentils, jaggery and coconut, offered by their aunt, mausima. On reaching back the main temple, the deities, on their chariots, don the golden attire or the suna besa, with hands, arms and crown made of solid gold. They are also offered sweet drinks, adhara pana, on huge cylindrical earthen pots reaching up to their lips. They are taken down from the chariots in a ritual descent to enter the temple.
P.S.: Wishing all of you and your family a very Happy and Prosperous Jagannatha Rath Yatra. May Lord Jagannath, Maa Subhadra and Lord Balarama shower their Divine Blessings on you.
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