Ratha Jatra, the Festival of Chariot: Chariots of Shri Jagannath is celebrated every year at Puri, the temple town in Odisha, on the second (dwitiya) day of shukla pakshya (waxing cycle of moon) of Ashadh Maas (3rd month in Lunar Calendar). The presiding deities of the Jagannath Temple, Puri’s main temple, Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra, with the celestial wheel (Sudarshana Chakra) are removed from the temple in a ceremonial procession to their chariots. The huge, colourfully decorated chariots are drawn by multitude of devotees on thebada danda, the grand avenue to the Gundicha Temple (Gundicha – King Indradyumna’s Queen), two miles away to the North.
On their way back from the Gundicha Temple, the three deities stop for a while near the Mausi Maa Temple (Aunt’s abode) and have an offering of the Poda Pitha, which is a special type of pancake supposed to be the Lord’s favourite. After a stay for seven days, the deities return to their abode
The three chariots of Balarama, Subhadra and Jagannatha are newly constructed every year with wood of specified trees like phassi, dhausa, etc. They are customarily brought from the ex-princely state of Dasapalla by a specialist team of carpenters who have hereditary rights and privileges 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 are decorated as per the unique scheme prescribed and followed for centuries stand on the Bada Danda, the Grand Avenue. Covered with bright canopies made of stripes of red cloth and combined with those of black, yellow and blue colours, the huge chariots are lined across the wide avenue in front of the majestic temple close to its eastern entrance, which is 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-foot diameter, and is decked with a cover made of red and yellow cloth. Lord Jagannatha is identified with Krushna, 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 Balarama, called the Taladhwaja, is the one with the Palm Tree on its flag. It has fourteen wheels, each of seven-foot diameter and is covered with red and blue cloth. Its height is forty-four feet.
The chariot of Subhadra, known as Dwarpadalana, literally “trampler of pride,” is forty-three feet high with twelve wheels, each of seven-foot diameter. 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 to four horses. These are of different colours – dark ones for Balarama, white ones for Jagannatha, and red ones for Subhadra. Each chariot has a charioteer called Sarathi. The three charioteers attached to the chariots of Jagannatha, Balarama and Subhadra respectively are Daruka, Matali and Arjuna.