There are many temples in this world, and thousands of devotees throng these places daily to find solace in godly devotion. As devotees, we need the support of our God at every step of our lives. However, have you ever seen a god leave his temple to be amidst his beloved devotees? Such is the story of Lord Jagannath and the unique Rath Yatra 2022, a tradition that celebrates devotion and life, a festival that brings the devotee and his God together.
The Legends of Rath Yatra
The story of Rath Yatra is closely entwined with the realization that Lord Jagannath exists in his most complete form in Jagannath Puri and leads his eternal life like that of a human. The Rath yatra might be famous and televised today, but its origins lie in the Puranas and the origin of Lord Jagannath himself. Another name for the Puri Rath Yatra is the Gundicha yatra which gives multiple meanings to the chariot festival. It is said that the name Gundicha has been borrowed from the Queen of Raja Indradyumna, the king who worshipped Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra and under whose instructions the idols of the Daru Devata were made. It is said that Gundicha Mandap is the birthplace of Sri Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra.
Rath Yatra and Rani Gundicha
Some scholars believe that the queen Gundicha had requested the king to arrange for the Rath Yatra evaery year so that commoners who could not otherwise come to the temple to see the Lord would get his darshan. Therefore, the Rath yatra has been the festival that unites the masses for ages. The Rath yatra was organized to signify equality and unity across different socio-economic backgrounds.
The Rath Yatra is a sign that everyone is part of a larger picture of universal brotherhood, and every being of this world is equal to others in the eyes of the Lord of the World. The Gundicha Mandap in the Gundicha temple is located some mile and a half from the main temple of Jagannath Puri. The Gundicha temple is also called the Mausi Ma temple because Queen Gundicha is seen as the Aunt of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra. The gods make a yearly rath yatra to their birthplace to visit their maternal aunt and enjoy a vacation. In this manner, the gods emulate the lives of their human devotees and visit their birthplace with much fanfare.
The Mahavedi of the Gundicha Temple is where the idols of the three gods were made. According to Puranic legends, Lord Jagannath promised the king and queen that the gods would visit their birthplace and stay there for a week. The journey to the Gundicha temple starts on the second day of the Ashadha month of the Hindu calendar or Ashadha Dwitiya of Shukla paksha. The journey usually takes about a day to complete, and thousands of devotees and servitors draw the chariots. The king of Puri or the Gajapati also plays a massive role in the Rath yatra. The King of Puri is known as the principal servant of Lord Jagannath, and it is believed that whatever happens in Puri, even the decisions of the king are executed with the Lord’s wishes.
Its Ritualistic Significance
The King of Puri visits the three chariots before they are pulled to their destination and sweeps the chariot floors with a special broom. This tradition is called the Chera Panhara and signifies the king’s dedication to the Lord and also stands for humility and the shedding of ego at the feet of the Lord. It shows that Lord Jagannath is the Supreme form of the Universe and every being of this world is equal to him.
The Gundicha Yatra, or the Rath Yatra, is held for nine days, and several traditions and rituals are fulfilled. After staying at their birthplace for seven days, the gods return to the main temple grounds, to the Bada Danda on the ninth day. The journey is called the Bahuda Yatra, the Odia word for return. The deities stay on the chariots for another day and are adorned in exceptional golden jewellery to create the rare Suna besha or Gold attire of the gods. The Raja Rajeshwar besha, as the Suna besha is called, is said to grant good deeds and luck to the people who see the form of God in the attire.
After the Suna Besha, the Gods return to their Ratna Singhasana on the day of Niladri Bije when the servitors of the deities take them inside the temple. On the day of Niladri Bije, Lord Jagannath has to offer rasagolla or sweets to Goddess Lakshmi, his wife goddess, to appease her anger because he left her at home when visiting his maternal place. The origin of the famous Odisha rasagola is traced to this tradition.
The world-famous Rath Yatra is when the Lord of the World decides to step out of his grand temple to grace the familiar roads and celebrate amid his devotees. It is believed that seeing and worshipping the Lord when he sits on his vivid chariot Nandighosh grants a devotee unparalleled happiness and salvation.
When the deities move to and from the chariots, it looks like they become one with the crowd of devotees and celebrate the occasion with them. It looks like even a grain of sand on the divine Grand Road dances with devotion and happiness when Lord Jagannath graces the land. Every devotee and even the Lord himself waits for the occasion, and the excitement of the festival is seen in the millions of people who throng the Bada Danda on the day of Rath Yatra.
For the nine days of Rath Yatra, the pious city of Puri comes alive with devotion, dance, food and colours. The festival of Rath Yatra brings the world as one large community and spreads the message of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, where everyone is a part of the Supreme Power, Lord Jagannath.