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Pradeep Pattanayak

Puri, popularly known as Jagannath dham, is one of the four divine sites for every Hindu. Here, Lord Jagannath, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, along with His siblings Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra is worshipped in the world famous Srimandir.

For the uninitiated, a total of 148 festivals are celebrated in the temple annually. They include 12 yatras, 28 upayatras and 108 festivals.

Of them, Rath Yatra is the most famous. The annual nine-day sojourn of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra, which begins on the ‘Dwitiya’ tithi during Ashadha Shukla Paksha, is eagerly awaited because this is the only occasion when the Lord steps out of His sanctum sanctorum to give darshan to the old and the sick and all devotees irrespective of caste, colour and religion.

The festival is a unique manifestation of the philosophy of classless and casteless society.

The preparations for the nine-day annual sojourn start early, with the construction of chariots beginning on the auspicious day of Akshay Tritiya.

The three chariots are in the shape of Rekha deul type.


Lord Jagannath’s chariot is called Nandighosa. While its height is 44.2 feet, it has 16 wheels. Its clothing cover is a combination of red and yellow colours.

While ‘Daruka’ is the charioteer of this ratha, ‘Sankhachuda’ is its rope. The four white wooden horses fitted to it are Sankha, Balahaka, Sweta and Haridaswa.

Lord Balabhadra’s ratha is called Taladhvaja. Its height is 43.3 feet and it has 14 wheels. Its cloth covering is a combination of red and green colours.

While ‘Matali’ is the charioteer of this rath, ‘Vasuki’ is its rope. The names of its four black wooden horses are Tibra, Ghora, Dirghasrama and Swarnanabha.

Darpadalana is the name of Devi Subhadra’s ratha. While it stands at 42.3 feet, it has 12 wheels. This rath is covered with red and black clothes. While ‘Arjun’ is its charioteer, its rope is called Swarnachuda. The colour of the four horses attached to it is red and their names are Rochika, Mochika, Jita and Aparajita.

The rituals of Ratha Yatra start much ahead of the Ratha Yatra day. Approximately 18 days before Ratha Yatra, Lord Jagannatha, His brother Balabhadra and His sister Devi Subhadra are given a famous ceremonial bath which is known as Snana Yatra. This festival is observed on Purnima Tithi in the month of Jyeshtha, which is popularly known as Jyestha Purnima.

The deities are taken out in ‘Pahandi’ from the sanctum sanctorum to the bathing altar. Then they are given a ceremonial bath. For this, 108 pitchers of herbal and aromatic water are used. Earlier, the water is drawn from the suna kua (golden well).

The same night, the deities are taken to ‘Anasara Ghara’ where they stay for a fortnight. It is believed that, like human beings, they too fall sick after bathing. During this period, devotees are not allowed to have a darshan of recuperating deities.

During this period, devotees instead go to Alarnath temple in Brahmagiri, 25 kilometres from Puri. There, they feel blessed after having darshan of Alarnath Dev.

During this period, even ‘Mahaprasad’ is offered to the lord at Alarnath temple.

On the 16th day, the deities become ready to appear before their devotees. The festival is known as ‘Netrotsava’ or ‘Naba Yauvana Darshan'. The next day is world famous Rath Yatra.



On the Rath Yatra day (Dwitiya tithi, Shukla Paksha of Ashadha month), it seems all roads lead to Puri as lakhs of devotees from different parts of the globe throng the holy town to have a glimpse of their beloved Lord Jagannath seated on His chariot.

After completion of daily rituals like Mangal Alati, Abakasha, Rosa Homa, Ballabha, Mailam Lagi, among others the preparations start for the deities' outing.

Out on the Grand Road, the decorated three majestic chariots are sanctified by Deul Purohit. The ritual is called ‘Rath Pratistha'.

The deities are taken out of the sanctum sanctorum in a royal procession called ‘Pahandi Bije’. In Dhadi Pahandi, they are taken one after another in close succession. They all assemble at the seventh stair to wear giant floral crowns, known as ‘Tahia’.

Thereafter, the deities are taken in rhythmic movements amidst beating of cymbals, gongs and drums, sound of conch blowing and chanting of their names by devotees. While Lord Sudarshan and Devi Subhadra are carried on shoulders, Lord Jagannath and Balabhadra are carried with forward and backward movements with pauses.

They go to their respective chariots through Pata Agana, Ananda Bazar, Inner Lions’ Gate, Baisi Pahacha, Lions’ Gate, Gumuti and Arunastambha.

Proxy divinities like Madanmohan and Ramakrishna are placed on Nandighosha and Taladhwaja chariots respectively.

In Chita Lagi rituals, special head ornaments and pata bastra are provided to the deities.

Most significantly, Lord Jagannath is provided with a coconut sent by the villagers of Baligaon, the village of Dasia Bauri.

Then begins the most important ritual of Chhera Panhara.

In this ritual, Puri Gajapati Maharaja is seen performing the job of a sweeper. He sweeps the three chariots using a gold handled broom while sprinkling sandalwood powder and water. This ritual is also performed on the last day of yatra, called Bahuda Yatra.

After completion of this ritual, the long wait of devotees to pull chariots comes to an end. They pull the chariots along the three-kilometre long Grand Road to the Gundicha Temple (a monument built in memory of Queen of Indradyumna).

Worth mentioning, after 200 metres of journey, the chariot of Lord Jagannath comes to a screeching halt before a mazar (tomb) on the right side. It is the tomb of Salabeg, one of the greatest devotees of Lord Jagannath.

The deities stay at the Gundicha temple for eight days.

On the fourth day of their stay, one of the most mysterious festivals, Hera Panchami is celebrated.

After spending four days without the Lord, Goddess Laxmi becomes disconsolate. On this day, she with permission from Maa Bimla steps out and goes to the Gundicha temple to have a glimpse of the Lord. As she reaches the temple, its gate is suddenly closed. In a fit of anger, she breaks a part of the Nandighosha Rath parked in front of the Gundicha temple, registering her anger on Lord Jagannath not taking her with Him on the journey.

After eight days’ stay at the Gundicha temple, on the ninth day the deities return to their abode. This is known as ‘Bahuda Yatra'.

On their way to home, the three chariots stop at the Mausi Maa Temple where Poda Pitha Bhog, a special baked pastry prepared from rice flour, coconut, jaggery is offered to the deities.

On the Bahuda Yatra day, the deities remain atop their respective chariots parked in front of the temple. On the same day, ‘Suna Besha’ ritual is performed. The deities are dressed in glittering gold ornaments. Devotees witness the ‘Suna Besha’ from evening to 11 pm.

On the 11th day (Ekadasi), another unique ritual is performed. It is called ‘Adhara Pana’. The deities are offered a sweet and scented drink on huge cylindrical earthen pots reaching up to their lips. Each deity is offered three pots of ‘pana’ on their respective chariot.

In local language, ‘adhara’ means lip and ‘pana’, a sweet drink.

Once the ritual is over, the earthen pots are purposefully broken by the servitors and the ‘pana’ spreads all over the chariots. It is so done because the drink is not for servitors or devotees but for evil spirits, ghostly bodies, dissatisfied souls and the minor deities (Parshva Devatas) present on three chariots during the yatra.

On the 12th day, after the evening rituals, the deities are taken to the sanctum sanctorum of the Srimandir in ‘Goti Pahandi’ procession.

Here too, a unique ritual is performed. Since, Goddess Laxmi is angry for leaving her alone in the temple, She allows Lord Sudarshan, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra into the temple. But she stops Lord Jagannath at the gate. It follows a traditional act where the servitors of Lord Jagannath and those of Mahalaxmi engage in a conversation at the main gate (Jaya Vijaya Door) of the temple.

It is then that Lord Jagannath offers rasagolla to Goddess Laxmi to appease her so that He can gain access to the abode.

Thus the nine-day long Rath Yatra comes to an end.

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