To the followers of traditional religions, the chariot or “Rath” is made of wood, so that the Lord Himself travels from one place to another. This chariot ride of God is known as ‘Rath Yatra‘. This holy festival is celebrated at a specific time every year.
There are various stories about the Rath Yatra, which are associated with the name of Lord Krishna. Jagannath and Vishnu are the two forms of Sri Krishna. Balaram or Balabhadra, Sri Krishna or Jagannath, and Subhadradevi are the three siblings of each other. Due to the loving relationship of their three siblings, they are revered and Rath Yatra is also centered on them.
The advent of Jagannath
According to the Padma Purana, Malbaraja Indradyumna was an absolute devotee of Vishnu. He built a temple, named Shrikshetra, which is now known as Jagannath Dham. But there was no idol in the temple. One day someone in his Rajsabha spoke about Nilmadhab. Nilmadhab is a form of Vishnu. Where can he be found? No one knows. So the king sent people to find Nilmadhab. No one could find him. When everyone was disappointed, only Vidyapati was not seen. He lost his way in the forest. Lalita, the daughter of Shabarraj Biswabasu, rescued the lost Vidyapati in the forest. In that formula, the feeling between them grows, and gradually it turns into love. After some time of love, after getting married, the newlyweds Lalita and Vidyapati started living in the forest. Meanwhile, Vidyapati noticed that his father-in-law used to take a bath every day and go somewhere. Asking his wife, he found out that there is a statue of Nilmadhaba in the deep mountains of the forest. Biswabasu went there every day to worship Nilmadhab. Vidyapati was happy to know about Nilmadhab. As soon as he knew, he requested Biswabasu to visit Nilmadhab. Although he was unhappy at first, he had to accept the request of the stubborn son-in-law till the end. Vidyapati immediately worshipped Nilmadhaba with devotion. And then the prophecy came from the sky, “So far I have been worshipped by the poor and miserable, This time I want to be worshipped by King Indradumyuma.”. The news was sent to King Indradyumna. The king made all arrangements to take Nilmadhaba but Neelmadhaba could not be found. Then the prophecy was heard again, “The wood that floats in the seawater will be used to make the idol of Neelmadhaba”. To everyone’s surprise, one day the wood floated in the seawater. The floating wood is so hard that it stays away from building the idol, no one could put the hammer on the wood; then who will build the idol? Maharaj is in danger again. Jagannath himself took the form of an artist and stood at the door of the palace. He said he will build the idol of God. However, he has a condition The condition is that no one will be able to see his sculpture before three weeks or 21 days. Then the artist started working according to the conditions. But Queen Gundicha of Indradyumna became very curious. One day, without getting any sound from inside, he opened the door and went inside and saw that the artisan had disappeared. He was sad to see three half-finished statues. The unfinished idol with round eyes and complexion has neither arms nor legs. Seeing this situation, both the king and the queen were overwhelmed with remorse and sorrow. He thought that they got such a big punishment as a result of violating the conditions. However, God did not allow them to prolong this period of remorse. Appearing in a dream, Jagannath said, “It was decided in advance. This is how I want to be worshipped”. This is how Jagannath Dev gained popularity among the devotees from then on.
There is another myth surrounding Jagannathdev. It is said that Sri Krishna appeared before King Indradyumna and ordered the construction of a statue of him with a piece of wood floating on the beach of Puri. Just as the king was looking for a suitable carpenter to build the statue, a mysterious old Brahmin carpenter appeared before him. He asked the king for a few days to build the statue and told him not to let anyone interfere with his work. Behind the door, the construction of the wooden sculpture began. Everyone, including the king and queen, became very curious about the construction work. Every day they would go to the closed door to hear the sound of carving from inside. Except for a few days, when the king is standing outside, the sound stops. Unable to restrain her curiosity, the queen opened the door and entered. Then they see the statue half-finished and the woodworker missing. This mysterious woodworker was Devashilpi Bishwakarma. The king was perplexed because the idol’s limbs had not been made, and began to repent for interrupting the work. Then Devarshi Narad consoled Raja and said that this half-finished idol is a recognized form of the Supreme Lord. That’s what he wanted. This is how Jagannath Deva appeared.
What is Rath Yatra?
In the ancient book of Orissa, Brahmandapuran, in the context of the history of Jagannath’s Rath Yatra, it is said that this Rath Yatra was introduced in the Satya Yuga. At that time Orissa was known as Malabdesh. Indradyumna, an absolute devotee of Vishnu from the Sun dynasty, dreamed of building a statue of Lord Vishnu in the form of Jagannath and also received a dream order for a chariot ride or Rath Yatra. Later, the construction of the Jagannath temple and the introduction of Rath Yatra in Puri started with his hand.
According to archaeologists, the rath yatra of Jagannath in Puri is the beginning of the rath yatra in Bengal as well. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu brought this rath yatra festival from Nilachal to Bengal. Vaishnavism introduced Rath Yatra in Bengal in imitation of Puri. Now, this Rath Yatra is very popular in many parts of Bengal.
The Rath Yatra festival is held on the second day of Shukla paksha in the Bengali month of Ashar. On this day Jagannath went to Gundicha temple with his elder brother Balaram and sister Subhadra. From there he returned to his temple seven days later. The day of departure is called the “Soja Rath” and the return journey to the temple, in the same way, is called the “Ulto Rath”. They started their journey by pushing three well-equipped chariots in a row. Many people think that visiting Gundicha temple is the same as going to “Masir Bari”. Ancient scholars say that Gundicha was the wife of King Indradyumna. However, there is a difference of opinion among the scholars.
Rath Yatra Festival in Puri
Skandhapurana directly mentions the Jagannath rath yatra, the procession of Jagannath in Puri. There, referring to the word ‘Purushottam Kshetra Mahatmya’, Maharshi Jaimini described the size, decoration, measurements, etc. of the chariot. ‘Purushottam Kshetra’ or ‘Shrikshetra’ actually means Puri. Since the temple of Lord Jagannath is located in Puri, this temple is considered to be the holiest place and one of its attractions is the Rath Yatra. Every year the king of Puri inaugurates the Puri Rath Yatra. Although there was no kingdom, the royal family of Puri still exists today. According to the rules of the royal family, the one who receives the title of king is the one who lays wreaths in front of the three chariots. After the king sweeps the front of the chariot with a golden broom and perfumed water. Then the rope of Puri’s chariot was pulled. In the Rath Yatra, the procession of Jagannath started. Three separate chariots for three. These three chariots are also the main attractions of the Rath Yatra festival. There are some rules for the three chariot rides and the size and color of the chariots also vary.
For example, the chariot of elder brother Balbhadra started the journey first. The name of this chariot is “Taldhwaj”. The chariot has fourteen wheels, a height of forty-four feet and the color of the chariot’s cover is blue.
Then sister Subhadra’s chariot traveled. The name of the chariot is “Darpadalan”. The height is about forty-three feet. This chariot has twelve wheels. Since the flag of the chariot has a lotus symbol, the chariot is also called the “Padmadhwaj”. The color of the chariot’s cover is red.
Lastly, there is the chariot of Sri Krishna or Jagannath. The name of the chariot is “Nandighosh”. The flag has a statue of Kapiraj Hanuman on it, hence the name “Kapidhbhaja”. The height of the chariot is forty-five feet. It has sixteen wheels. The color of the chariot’s cover is yellow.
Although the cover of the three chariots is different in color, the surface of each chariot is red. The chariot started its journey towards the Gundicha temple, about three miles from the Jagannath temples.
After staying there for seven days, Jagannath returned to the temple in the opposite chariot. Currently, three chariots are used. However, about seven hundred years ago, the journey of the Rath Yatra was divided into two parts. And a total of six chariots were used in those two parts. Because, at that time, a wide Balagundi canal used to flow through the middle of the road from Jagannath temple to Gundicha. So when the three chariots came from the Jagannath temple to the Balagundi canal, the idols of Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra would come down from the chariot, cross the canal and sit in the other three chariots waiting on the other side. In 1282, after Raja Keshari Narsingh took over the kingdom of Puri, he was filled with soil and the Balagundi canal was closed. Since then there have been three chariots in the Puri Rath Yatra.
During the Rath Yatra, about fifteen to twenty lakh Hindus came to Puri from home and abroad to take part in Rath Yatra. According to the scriptures, a dwarf sitting on a chariot does not rebirth when he sees Jagannath. That is why devout Hindus consider pulling the rope of the chariot as a work of virtue.
According to the statement of the devotee, Rath Yatra has some interesting and amazing information
- In Puri, there is no year during the time of the chariot that the day of the chariot did not rain.
- Chariots are built without any modern equipment. The construction of the chariot does not take the slightest help of such advanced technology of the present time.
- The specific length measurements for the construction of the chariot are taken by hand, not with the help of any yard tape. No nails, nuts, bolts, metal – nothing is used here.
- About fourteen hundred workers built the chariot. No one has to be hired separately here, because those who have been making chariots since time immemorial, their descendants are still making chariots today.
- The three chariots have idols of Balarama, Subhadra, and Jagannath inside, which are made of neem wood and decorated with about 206 kg of gold.
- The source of all the wood used in the construction of chariots is the two forests of Dashpalla and Ranapur near Puri. Twice as many trees are planted in the forest every year.
Apart from Puri, the Rath festival is celebrated in many Hindu areas of the world. For example, New York, Toronto, Laos, and other places in Bangladesh are seen to celebrate the Rath Yatra. There are wonderful fairs or “Mela” centered around the chariot. Vendors sit down with sweets such as dry food, such as Khai, Muri-Murki, Chira Bhaja, Jilapi, Amitti, etc. Not only, hand-made earthen pots, dolls, copper dolls, children’s toys, utensils, wooden temples, and various other items are also available at the Rath Mela.
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