As one of the holy Char Dham sites, Puri draws thousands of pilgrims every year who travel from far and wide for the darshan of Jagannath, the Lord of the Universe. The number of travelers booking flights to Puri is particularly high during June-July when the world-famous Puri Rath Yatra takes place.
One of India’s biggest religious celebrations and world’s oldest chariot processions, Puri Rath Yatra (also called the Chariot Festival) involves a grand-scale procession of the Jagannath temple’s three presiding deities — Lord Jagannath (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu), Balabhadra (his brother) and Devi Subhadra (his sister) — from the sanctum-sanctorum of the iconic Puri Jagannath temple to Gundicha temple situated some 2-3 km away, affording darshan to all. The deities are mounted on exquisitely decorated massive wooden chariots, which devotees draw along the streets with utter reverence invoking the name of the Lord of the Universe. An equally grand procession is organized after 7 days for the return journey of the deities to their abode in Srimandira.
According to the Hindu calendar, the Yatra happens on Dwitiya Tithi during Shukla Paksha of Ashada month, and this year, Puri Rath Yatra falls on July 12. However, devotees are not allowed to take part in Puri Rath Yatra 2021 due to the prevailing COVID-19 crisis. The Odisha Government announced that a total of 500 COVID-negative/ fully vaccinated servitors and temple officials would participate in the sacred rituals of Jagannath Rath Yatra this year. Moreover, the event will be live-streamed across the world for devotees to view the splendid procession, at least virtually.
Puri Rath Yatra 2021 Schedule:
Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra festivities started with Snan Purnima on 24 June, and following are the dates of the other important Rath Yatra rituals.
12 July: Gundicha Yatra (Pahandi rituals from 8:30 am, Chhera Panhara at 2 pm, pulling of chariots to start at 3 pm)
20 July: Bahuda Yatra (Pahandi rituals between 12:00 pm and 2:30 pm followed by towing the chariots at 4:00 pm)
21 July: Suna Besha (rituals to take place between 4:00 pm and 11:00 pm)
23 July: Niladri Bije (procession of the deities back to Srimandira to happen between 4 pm and 10 pm)
Interesting Details about Jagannath Rath Yatra and its Elaborate Rituals:
Dedicated to Jagannath, the chariot festival (symbolic of equality) traces its origin back to the 11th century. It also finds a mention in ancient Hindu scriptures such as the Brahma Purana, Padma Purana, Skanda Purana and Kapila Samhita.
Puri Rath Yatra has several other names like Gundicha Jatra, Ghosa Jatra, Navadina Jatra, Dasavatara Jatra, etc.
The heavy chariots of Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra (called Nandighosa, Taladhwaja, and Darpadalana respectively) are carved from special wood and decorated with bright-colored canopies to resemble the actual temple structure.
Nandighosa stands tall at 45 feet, has 16 wheels (each measuring seven feet in diameter), and is draped with red and golden-yellow striped canopies, while Taladhwaja decked in red and blue cloth is 44 feet tall with 14 wheels and the red and black canopied Darpadalana is 43 feet in height and has 12 wheels. Another distinguishable feature of Raths is the color of the wooden horses drawing them. Nandhighosa is drawn by four white horses, Taladhwaja by black horses and Darpadalan by red wooden horses.
The ritual of bringing the idols of Jagannath, Balbhadra and Subhadra out of the sanctum and ceremoniously installing them in their respective chariots is called Pahandi.
The erstwhile King of Puri cleans the chariot with golden-handled broom and sandalwood-scented water, as part of Chhera Pahanra ritual.
Suna Besha and Adhara Pana, the concluding rituals of Puri Rath Yatra, are held on the tenth and eleventh days. Suna Besha is a ritual of adorning the idols in golden ornaments and Adhara Pana refers to the offering of a special drink in huge terracotta pots to the sibling deities.
The mere sight of Lord Jagannath on his chariot is considered very auspicious. Devotees regard the opportunity of tugging this chariot to be bestowed upon them by the Lord Himself.
Traditionally, the sibling deities begin their return journey to Srimandira on Ashadha Shukla Paksha Dashami; this is called Bahuda Yatra.