Ratha Yatra

Of all the festivals of the year, the greatest is the Rath yatra; which commemorates the journey of Krishna from Gokul to Mathura.  According to Hindu mythology, Krishna, the ninth incarnation of Vishnu, was the eighth son of Vasudeva and his wife Devaki.  It had been predicted that a son of theirs would kill Kansa, the demon King of Mathura, who typifies the principal of evil.  Kansa, therefore, imprisoned Vasudeva and his wife, and slew their first six sons; Balarama, the seventh, was abstracted from Devaki’s womb, transferred to that of Rohini, another wife of Vasudeva, and so saved.
On the birth of Krishna, the father escaped from Mathura with the child and, cossing the Jamuna, entrusted the infant Krishna to the care of the herdsman king, nanda of Vraja. In Gokul or Braj Krishna grew up to manhood.  At length, Kansa heard of him and sent a messenger to bring him and his brother to Mathura.  The brothers drove in their chariot to Mathura, where Krishna killed Kansa and ruled in his stead.


The episode in the life of Krishna is commemorated by the Rath Yatra, which takes place in June or July every year.  On this occasion the images of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra are removed from the temple and taken in great chariots to the garden house (Gundich-bari) along the Bara Danda road, which is about two kms. Here the Gods remain in the Rath at night, and are taken out next morning and placed in the shrine.  They remain there for a week and are then again put into the cars and taken back to the temple, thus commemorating the return journey of Krishna.  The rule is that the whole festival should last nine days, allowing a day for journey to the Gundichabari, a day for the return journey, and seven days for the stay there;  but in practice it lasts much longer, the return journey sometimes taking many days.  The cars are large structures of considerable height, resembling lofty towers bedecked with tinsel, paintings and wooden statuary.  The largest is the car of Jagannath, which is 45 feet in height and 35 feet square, and is supported on 16 wheels with a diameter of 7 feet.
The brother and sister of jagannath have seoarate cars a few feet smaller.  The images are brought out from the temple throught the Lion Gate and placed on the cars, this being know as the pahandi, a sacred moment when the assembled pilgrims fall on their knees and bow their foreheads in the dust.  They then take hold of the roped and drag the cars down the Bara Danda road to the garden house of Jagannath.  The distance is not long, but at the heavy structures have no contrivance to guide them, and the wheels sink deep into the sand, which at places covers the road.  The journey has been known to take several days.
Once arrival at the garden house is over, the enthusiasm subsides.  By the third day most of the pilgrims have left, and if professional car pullers, were not there Lord jagannath would often be left there.  The cars are dragged from the temple by the assembled pilgrims and by a number of villagers, who hold revenue-free lands granted t them as remuneration for the work.  When the pilgrims are insufficient to drag the cars back coolies are engaged from the neighbouring villages. In 1904, the pilgrims alone pulled the cars to the country house in 4 hours and brought them back again to the temple without such assistance;  in 1907, when 75,000 pilgrims attended the ceremony, the journey was performed in 4.5 hours.

The Chariots and the Chariot festival

The three chariots are built anew annually, excluding the Kalasa, 14 subsidiary deities, charioteers and horses. 1072 piece of logs (i.e phasi, dhaura, maie, simili) are brought from Dasapalla and Ranpur forests.  Nearly 125 temple carpenters (including helping assistants) work for 58 days at the Mahakhala (in front of the palace) and chisel out 2188 pieces of wood for the construction of three chariots.  The construction work commences on the Akshaya Tritiya.  Each chariot is covered with new cloths or radiant colour.  Orissa Textile mills provides nearly 1090 meters of cloths for this purpose.  The chariots are fastened with four log sturdy ropes (each 240’ – 250’ with 8” diameter) each so as to facilitate the devotees to pull them.
The Kerala Coir Corporation provides these specially manufactured coconut fibre ropes.  Iron nails, brackets, clamps, etc. used for this purpose are indigenously prepared by the native smiths near the Dolavedi and it takes them more than a month. The Rath’s superstructure (above the wheels) contains eighteen pillars and roofs at various states, which are known as bhuin, Potala, parabhadi, etc.  There are 34 components of the chariot.  Each chariot contains nine parswadevatas (subsidiary deities), two dwarapals (door keepers), one sarathi (charioteer) and one presiding deity of the crest banner (dhwaja devata), all made of wood.

Rath Yatra in Gujarat

In many cities of Gujarat like Amdavad, Surat, Bhavanagar, etc. glorious processions are carried out annually with devotional favour and joy. The Jagannath Mandir in Amdavad organises a yatra through the walled areas of the city.  People make kaleidoscopic Raths and floats of various materials mounted on trucks.  This year many youth and religious organizations in the city of Amdavad constructed ninety-eight Raths, which followed the Jagannath mandir’s fifteen decorated elephants.  Onlookers and devotees throng the narrow alleys, buildings and balconies, patiently awaiting up to three hours for the 5 km long colourful procession to pass by at a sedate pace.  When the chariots with the murtis arrive, people ritually sprinkle rice and gulal powder as a form of Puja.  The participants sitting in these raths liberally hand out fistfuls of prasadam of raw, sprouted mung beans.  Children are given sweets and confectionary.  Finally, at the rear were three raths of Subhadra, Balaram and Lord Krishna.  These were all hand drawn and pushed by devotees.  The flurry and festive excitement is enhanced by the jubilant chanting of Jai Ranchhod makhan Chor’  Indr, the god of rain, too arrives to participate! It has been noted that sometime during the Rath yatra, usually late afternoon or early evening, there is a light shower, never a heavy downpour, sanctifying the occasion.
The Rath Yatra is a festival suffused with devotional sentiments for the Lord.  For over five thousand years, Hindus have celebrated this spectacular festival.  Gathering together, they earnestly pray to the Lord to steer the chariots of their mundane lives through the vicissitudes of Samsara.