Hindu Festival: Rath Yatra

In India, many major temple festivals involve transporting the sacred images outside the temple precincts, in huge chariots (raths) which temporarily become temples themselves. This tradition is particularly important in Orissa and nowhere is it as important as in Puri, where the chariot festival takes its most spectacular form. Puri's fame is linked with its spectacular Rath Yatra. The festival is celebrated with much pomp and show annually as the presiding deity of the temple of Puri, Lord Jagannath and his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra are given a ritual bath, a 15 day rest then drawn in three massive chariots by thronging devotees to their summer vacation temple, a little distance off. The erstwhile Raja of Puri, led by profusely decorated elephant, arrives to ceremonially clean the platforms of the chariot. Then the journey begins.

It is a fervent and visually stunning ritual and the festival lasts a week, and ends with the return journey of the deities.

This festival of international fame celebrated on the second of moonlit night in the month of Ashadh (July), is a chief festival of Visnuites, This is Orissa's most important festival, attracting Lakhs of devotees from all parts of the country. The Rath Yatra in Puri has a special significance to the pilgrims. The three deities, Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadara are taken in a chariot procession to their summer temple for a week.

Prior to this, the three deities have a ritual boat ride after a refreshing bath in fragrant sandal wood scented water. This is followed by Snan Yatra, virtually the festival of bathing in which the main images are bathed ceremoniously. The deities then retire to their garden home. New attires are donned by them everyday, and after eight days they return to the main temple riding their magnificent chariot drawn by devotees.

The festival starts with the rhythmic clash of songs, as the deities are help onto the chariots by the devotees. The arrival of the Raja of Puri is heralded by gaily decorated elephant. He ceremoniously cleans the platforms of the chariots and sprinkles holy water, symbolizing equality of all before God.

The legend related to this festival is that in ancient times King Indradhuman got made wooden images of Krishna, Balrama and Subhadra by a Brahmin dressed carpenter. The king installed them in a temple in Purushottam region and put life into them under proper rituals and worshipped them. It is said that god appeared and blessed him to rule peacefully throughout life.

In Imphal, Rath Yatra is the second biggest festival of the Hindus, lasting eight days. Lord Jagannath leaves his temple in a car, pulled by pilgrims, who vie with one another for this honour. In Uttar Pradesh, Rath Yatra festival is also performed in Agra Vrindaban, under the auspices of Iskon (Hare Rama Hare Krishna cult of Europeans and Americans).

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