Rath Yatra means “Chariot journey” or “Journey on a chariot.” In India, it refers to a public procession carried out on a chariot, specifically to the famous chariot festivals that happen across the country. The most notable Ratha Yatra are in Odisha (at the Puri Jagannath temple), West Bengal, and Jharkhand. The processions typically consist of wooden deities mounted on a ratha which is then drawn through the city on a pre-decided route. Devotees follow the march on foot. Over the years, the rath yatra festival has become an event of great social and cultural significance. People from all over the world converge to take part and witness the various Rath Yatras around India and join in the festivities too!
The Jagannath Ratha Yatra of Puri is one of the oldest and certainly one of the grandest of all the Rath yatras in the world. It takes place primarily at the Puri Jagannath temple. We have vivid and detailed descriptions of it mentioned in the Puranas. Ample evidence suggests that the Yatras occurred even as late as the Mughal period. The story goes that upon the completion of particular temples, the King would dictate the establishment of the rath yatra, which continues until today.
The Rath Yatra at Puri
At Puri, the rath yatra starts from the Puri Jagannath temple. Lord Jagannath is an avatar of Shri Krishna. It is believed that once every year, Shri Krishna pays a visit to his home, Mathura. The yatra signifies his journey to his home and back to the temple.
The three deities of the temple of Lord Jagannath are Subhadra (Shri Krishna’s sister) and Balabhadra (Sri Krishna’s brother). The three idols are placed in their respective chariots and taken to the Shri Gudicha temple, three kilometres away. For this reason, the Jagannath Rath Yatra is also known as the Sri Gundicha Jatra. The deities stay here for nine days, after which they are taken back to the Jagannath temple. On the way, they stop at the Mausi Maa Temple, where a sacred offering (prasad) of Poda Pitha is made to the deities. It is believed that Poda Pitha was Sri Krishna’s, favourite sweet.
One of the most significant events during this festival is called the “Chhera Pahara.” Here, the King, dressed like a sweeper, takes a broom and sweeps the road that the idols will be taken on. The King performing the duties of a sweeper symbolizes that everyone is equal in the eyes of the Lord. The Chhera Pahara happens on two days. The first occurrence is at the beginning of the festivities and once at the end when the idols are returned to the main temple.
The Majestic Ratha
The three raths, or chariots, are the festival's main attraction. A particular type of wood is used to build them, and only a particular group of carpenters can build them. Construction starts on the auspicious day of Akshaya Tritya.
Standing at about 45 feet tall and 35 feet in width, the main ratha is one of the most magnificent rathas in the world. It takes two months to build, and people from all over the city volunteer for this propitious task. Then, artists and painters decorate the ratha with flowers and other auspicious designs. In this way, it becomes a way for the community to come together and generates much bonhomie amongst people.
redBus has all you need to plan your trip for the Jagannath Rath Yatra 2023.
Other Things to Do
Puri is not only about the Jagannath Rath Yatra. While you’re there, visit the Chilika Lake, where you can spot wildlife at the Bird Sanctuary and visit the ancient Goddess Kalijai temple. You may also want to spend some time at the Puri beach, looking at the sand sculptures the artist Sudarshan Patnaik created. A lesser-known gem of Puri is the Raghurajpur Artist Village. Only three kilometres from Puri, this is a heritage art village known for its famous Pattachitra paintings. Visitors can spend an entire day looking at various art displays such as palm leaf engravings, stone, papier-mache art and even Gotipua Folk Dance.
Best Time to Visit and Where to stay?
To catch the Rath yatra 2023 at Puri, you must plan, as it is one of the year's most anticipated events. It happens on the second lunar day of the bright fortnight (Shukla paksha) of the Ashada (rainy season) month of the Hindu calendar. This is usually in June or July. However, the Puri Jagannath rath yatra starts this year on the 20th of June, so plan.
How to Get There
The closest airport is the Biju Patnaik Airport at Bhubaneshwar. Numerous cab and bus services are available from the airport to Puri, which is only 60 kilometres away.
You can also travel to Puri via train or redBus. The Puri Railway Station is only 28 kilometres from the Puri Jagannath temple.
With the influx of tourism, there is accommodation to fit all kinds of budgets. However, the key is to book early, as most hotels are sold out during the festival. With redBus’s user-friendly interface, you can easily plan your entire trip. redBus can help you with all your travel needs, including hotels and taxis, and even offers you numerous unique packages when you book your vacation. Centuries ago, devotees arrived at Puri and made arrangements for their stay; in 2023, you can do so at the click of a button.