The exalted Rath Yatra celebrates the annual visit of the three Gods, Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra to the ‘Gundicha Temple’ through the ’Mausi Maa Temple’ (maternal aunt’s home) in Puri (also called the Shreekhetra). With earnest desire and devotion, this festival is celebrated with huge processions, devotional songs with drums, bell metals, cymbals, fireworks, Odissi dance, Gotipua dance, etc.
There are seven events that are considered to be especially spectacular during the time of the Ratha Jatra, i.e.
- Snana Poornima
- Ratha Jatra
- Hera Panchami
- Bahuda Jatra
- Suna Bhesa ( the golden attire)
- Adhara Pana
- Niladri Bije
The homecoming of the Trinity from the Gundicha temple is the final step to conclude the Rath Yatra. The return journey of Mahaprabhu is known as “Bahuda Yatra”. This journey is celebrated with great pomp and show as throngs of devotees look on.
After ‘Hera Panchami’ (when Maha Devi Lakshmi breaks a part of her husband’s chariot Nandighosa as Lord Jagannath had defied his promises to his wife and went ahead to his birthplace without taking her with him), out of respect for his wife, the chariots of the deities turn their direction towards South as a sign that they will be returning the following day.
The journey from the ‘Janma Bhoomi’ of the deities (birthplace) to the ‘Karma Bhoomi (duty place) of the divine siblings takes place on the 10th day after their stay for 9 days at the Gundicha Temple.
The Bahuda Jatra of the gods Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra riding their respective chariots, reaches the ‘Singhadwara’(North Gate). Earlier on in the day, various rituals are performed by their servitors. The day starts with ‘Mangala Alati’, with the rituals that follow being Mailum, Abakasa, Surya Pooja, Rosahoma, Dwarapala Puja, Besha Sesha, Khechudi Bhoga, Senapatalagi, and Mangalarpana. The Daitapatis then finally dress the gods for their Bahuda Pahandi. The ceremony usually starts during 9 am as soon as they receive ‘Agyaan Malas’ (allowance garland for their return journey) a ritual which is carried out by three Pujapandas in a respective manner for the allowance of the holy ‘Ratha Tana’ (pulling of the chariots).
The devotees congregated near the temple wait near ‘Nakachana Dwar’(exit gate) to see the awe-inspiring ‘Goti Pahandi’ of the trio. The crowd breaks into chants of “Hari Bol” and devotional songs. The gods are welcomed with “Tahiya” (crown made up of flowers, wood, tulsi and duba grass), ghantuas, cymbal players, mrudangas and conch and bugle blowers. Besides this, with the chanting of hymns and with ululations, Odissi dancers and ‘banati’ players welcome the holy trio to their respective chariots.
After the deities are settled in the chariots, Gajapati Maharaj (the King) performs the world-famous ‘Chhera Pahara’ with a broom with a gold plated handle and sweeps the ‘danda’(base) of the ‘Taladhwaja’, ‘Debadalana’ and ‘Nandighosa’ chariots.
The return journey abides by the same rules as those followed during the Rath Jatra. During their homecoming, the three chariots pause themselves near ’Mausi Maa’ Temple also known as the ‘Ardhasani Temple’. She treats the trio with ‘Poda Pitha’, a famous sweet cuisine specially made up of rice, dry fruits, coconut, lentils and jaggery.
After the Prasad is offered to the deities, the chariots commence their journey towards the abode of the Gods. The chariots Taladhwaja and Debadalana get parked in front of the ‘Singhadwara’ or ‘Lion’s Gate’, but Nandighosa stops on the way in front of the King’s palace. It is believed that he halts his chariot for the Queen of Puri. According to tradition, queens are bound by rules that prohibit them from coming out for the Lord’s darshan during the car festival. So, Lord Jagannath stops himself in front of the palace so that the Queen can get a darshan (view) of him from the palace’s window.
Later, ‘Maha Devi Lakshmi’ (wife of Lord Jagannath and the Queen of the shrine premises) comes out for a glimpse of her beloved husband to ascertain his safe return, by coming to the ‘Chahani Mandap’ (pavilion for view). She is then carried out in a palanquin and offers a garland as a token of love and devotion, which Mahaprabhu Lord Jagannath keeps as a token of love from his partner. Then she returns to the temple and waits for him to complete the ritual ’Niladri Bije’.
After the Bahuda Jatra is over, the Gods remain in the chariot for the night and perform their rituals from the ‘Bada Singhara Bhesa’ to the ‘Mangala Alati’ inside the chariot itself. The Gods also sleep in the chariot at night, which is known as ‘Thia Pahada’. For three consecutive days, the trio stays in the chariot for their devotees. The rituals that take place in these three days are ‘Suna Bhesa’ (the golden attire), ‘Adhara Pana’, ‘Rasagola Bhoga’ and then finally, the ‘Niladri Bije’.
The Bahuda Jatra will take place on 1st July this year. After this auspicious occasion, Lord Jagannath sleeps, i.e. sacred activities are prohibited from being performed in the temple for the next four months after the Bada Ekadasi.
This age-old tradition of Lord Jagannath has broken many stereotypes and taboos of idol worship. The rituals are compassionate, and that makes the festival very lively and widely accepted. Lord Jagannath is said to be omnipotent. It is said that he nurtures the world, but also creates an illusion (maya) just to imbibe humane characteristics and attributes in order to convey to the mortals that he is, after all, one of us.