Ratha Yatra festival comes in the rainy season, during the months of June and July. This is a special event in the eastern part of India, particularly in Puri, in the state of Orissa. It is held in honor of Lord Jagannath, which literally means the Lord of the Universe. Jagannath is a form of Krishna.
The name of Puri comes from the word Janagannathpuri which means the home of the Lord of the Universe, Jagannath. There is a big temple of Jagannath in Puri. It is one of the four major traditional centers of pilgrimage in India. The temple of Lord Jagannath enshrines wooden images of Lord Krishna, his brother Balaram or Balabhadra and sister Subhadra. The massive temple was built nearly eight centuries ago. The images stand in a row. The fair-colored Balaram, stands on extreme left. Dark-colored Krishna or Jagannath is on the extreme right and the yellow-colored sister Subhadra is in the center. These deities represent a close knit family which is ideal for all Hindus. Hindus make pilgrimages to Jagannath temple all the year round but it is considered to be very special if the pilgrimage is made during Ratha Yatra.
Three richly decorated chariots, resembling temple structures, are pulled through the streets of Puri. This commemorates the annual journey of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balarama, and their sister Subhadra to their aunt' s temple, the Gundicha Temple which is situated at a distance of 2km from their temple. New chariots are built every year. This is the only day when devotees who are not allowed in the temple premises such as non-Hindus and foreigners, can get their glimpse of the deities. During the festival, devotees from all over the World go to Puri with an earnest desire to help pull Lords' chariot with the help of other priests pulling the chariots with ropes. They consider this a pious deed and risk their lives in the huge crowd. The huge processions accompanying the chariots play devotional songs with drums, tambourines, trumpets etc. Children line the streets through which the chariot will pass and add to the mass chorus. The Rath carts themselves are some approximately 45 feet (14 m) high and are pulled by the thousands of pilgrims who turn up for the event. Millions of devotees congregate at Puri for this annual event from all over the country and abroad. It is also telecasted live on many Indian channels and International channels.The deities are unusual. They are unfinished. Hands are short and their lower parts are incomplete. The legend associated with the unusual appearance of the deities may interest you.
The legend associated with the Origin of Lord Jagannath
The history of Lord Jagannatha is a story of devotion, the eternal love between human being and God. It tells how the prayers of a devotee caused the Lord to make his appearance in a wondrous way. Also it shows how Krishna came as the Deity Jagannatha, so that he could accept loving service from all classes of human beings.The ancient Vedic literature describes the world ruled by king Indradyumna as a tranquil place. From his capital in Avantipura, the emperor surveyed a land filled with peace and prosperity unknown in modern times. Abundance was everywhere during the enlightened age of Satya-yuga, except in the heart of the King. Indradyumna felt all vacant in the world he ruled, because he hankered for a pleasure beyond material bounds. He has a desire to see the Lord face to face.God is not partial to displays of material wealth or power. They are insignificant compared to his glories. What is significant though is the love each soul may direct to the Lord. Sometimes the Lord can be conquered by a very pure love. The search begins.One day as Indradyumna lamented that he was not able to serve God directly, a pilgrim suddenly appeared. This man revealed how he had actually seen the Lord accepting direct loving service in his deity form of Nila Madhava. God incarnates in many ways throughout the ages, and sometimes He manifests in the form of stone or wood just to please his devotees and accept their loving services.The traveler described how, on the remote mountaintop of Niladri, he had seen the demigods worshipping the Lord. The King immediately requested his chief Brahmin priest, Vidyapati, to find this Deity, so that all of Avantipura could be presented at the lotus feet of the Lord as an offering of love.After a month's journey without rest, Vidyapati found Mountain Niladri, where he discovered Sabaras, lowborn pig herders, camped near the holy ground. Looking beyond class distinctions married the daughter (Lalita) of the tribal chief, Vishvavasu, who had been worshipping the Lord in great secrecy. Due to his daughter's request, Vishvavasu finally agreed to show Lord Nila Madhava to Vidyapati with a precondition that he had to reach the site blindfolded. But the Brahmin tricked his father-in-law by following the idea of his wife Lalita. He sprinkled mustard seeds along the path, which would eventually sprout and lead the emperor back to claim the Lord's attention.
For many years Vishvavasu had served Lord Nila Madhava with simple fruits like Kanda Mula (Sweet Potatoes) and flowers. Knowing the prayers of Indradyumna, Nila Madhava spoke to Vishvavasu and revealed his intention of accepting more opulent worship according the desires of Indradyumna. Vishvavasu was devastated.Vishvavasu blamed Vidyapati for persuading Nila Madhava to accept Indradyumna's worship. Accusing the Brahmin of cheating him, Vishvavasu bound Vidyapati with ropes. Vishvavasu’s daughter heard her husband's cries for help and freed him to return to Avantipura.Upon Vidyapati's return, Indradyumna climbed upon his chariot and led an army to the mountain, where they located the trail of tiny mustard plants. The two struggled with the temple door and discovered that Nila Madhava had vanished.Only Vishvavasu could be suspected of removing the Deity. In his desperation to keep the Lord he might have done anything. However, when they found the chief of the Sabaras, he was still mourning Nila Madhava's departure. Not believing his lament they arrested Vishvavasu. Suddenly Narada Muni, a great sage, appeared and revealed what had really happened to Nila Madhava.The Lord had withdrawn due to His own choosing, but he would reappear again in the form of Lord Jagannatha to bestow benedictions upon the entire world. Whereas Nila Madhava had enjoyed the simple and intimate service of Vishvavasu, his appearance as Jagannatha would be for the benefit of everyone. First, however, Narada Muni announced that a great temple must be constructed. Then Lord Brahma, chief of the demigods, would receive Indradyumna on his own planet and plan for the sacred installation of Jagannatha Swami, the Lord of the Universe.
When the temple was finally completed, Narada Muni escorted Indradyumna to his father's abode on Satya-loka. The home of Lord Brahma is inaccessible to ordinary human beings, but so great was Indradyumna's devotion to God that even Lord Brahma was eager to meet him. Lord Brahma further described how Lord Jagannatha would appear in a wooden form from a great kalpa-briksa tree, transported from the spiritual planet of Svetadvipa.As Indradyumna returned to the earth in a space ship from Brahma's planet, he noticed that things had changed. Though he was away for what seemed a short time, the earth had aged many years. No one recognized him in his own kingdom, and his trusted priest Vidyapati had been replaced by another.The King remained bewildered until a mystical crow revealed how all Indradyumna's associates had died in his absence. For the sake of worshipping the Supreme he had lost everything; family, friends, and kingdom. King Indardyumna put up the tallest monument of the world for Jagannath. It was 1,000 cubits high. Seeing the temple Brahma was immensely pleased with him. He asked him as to in what way can he (Brahma) fulfill his (Indradyumna's) desire, since he was very much pleased with him for his spirited effort to construct the most beautiful temple for Lord Vishnu. With folded hands, Indradyumna said, "My Lord if you are really pleased with me, kindly bless me with one thing, and it is that I should be issueless and that I should be the last member of my family”. As Indradyumna was thinking that in case anybody left alive after him, he would only take pride as the owner of the temple and would not work for the society… Narayan Narayan. This teaches the world that how much high state of mind a devotee can achieve by his/her unselfish bhakti bhaba towards the Supreme Lord.Indradyumna was searching the Lord’s form, which had to be installed in the temple, but he had not got even a single hint how to find Lord’s form. Despite this hardship, Indradyumna remained steadfast in his courage. He knew that God sometimes tests the love of his devotees by removing all other objects of affection. King Indradyumna was determined to hasten the Lord's arrival by fasting, if necessary until death. Then Jagannatha did appear, but only in a dream and the emperor was guided to a great log floating in the ocean. No ordinary tree, this giant had come uprooted from the spiritual sky, part of the same transcendental energy as the Lord's own body. Even the might of the army could not budge it.
A lowly Sabara stepped from the crowd and handled the huge trunk with ease. This amazing fellow turned out to be a descendant of Vishvavasu, and he carried the sacred log to Gundicha Temple for preparation.The greatest craftsmen in the entire world assembled to carve the Lord's Deity form, according to scriptural injunctions. But all their tools simply shattered to pieces. Then a mysterious old Brahmin appeared, Ananta Maharana, and he agreed to carve the Deity of the Lord. But it had to be done on his own terms: complete isolation for three weeks. Gates were locked and the beat of the chisel resounded for days. After only two weeks however, it stopped and Indradyumna worried. He thought that as the Brahmin was old so he might be struggling for the life inside.Overcoming the restraints of priests and advisors, the King opened the doors to discover an unusual sight: a form of the Deity never before seen. The Lord's form was apparently unfinished having no hands or feet, and the emperor feared he had made a great mistake in opening the doors too early. The aged sculptor had vanished.As Indradyumna cursed his foolishness, newfound friends tried to console him. The descendant of the Sabaras said, "Whatever happens is by the Lord's will. You acted out of love so there can be no mistake." And the chief priest said that the Deity of Jagannatha, along with His brother, Baladeva, and sister, Subhadra, should be painted and dressed and prepared for the installation ceremony by Lord Brahma.Narada Muni then described how he had seen this form before, while visiting Dwarka. At that time, the Lord's Vrindavan pastimes were being discussed, and the Lord overheard the conversation and felt loving separation for his devotees. He went into a trance and his eyes opened wide, his feet and hands retracted into his body. Sharing in this transcendental exchange, Krishna's sister and brother were similarly transformed.Then, Narada Muni announced that his father, Lord Brahma, would soon arrive to install the Jagannatha Deity. Before the celebration began, Brahma gave Indradyumna divine vision to see that his new friends were, in fact, the embodied souls of his old companions Vidyapati and Vishvavasu. Thus the story of Jagannatha's appearance ended happily, with the reunion of loving devotees to honor and serve the Lord.After thousands of years, the Jagannatha Deity remains a source of unlimited joy to his friends and servants. And the Rathayatra procession is a time to celebrate the loving exchange between the personality of Godhead and his devotees. All those who take part in this festival and chant the Maha Mantra with Joy will receive his special blessings and help on their journey back home, back to Godhead.