The British word Juggernaut originated from Jagannath Yatra. Reason? The festival is known for being attended by millions. The fear of being trampled surpasses the energy that keeps the chariots going; with an unstoppable force.
Mystery, Colour, Mythology, Devotion and a Crowd of Millions makes the Rath Yatra of Jagannath, Puri.
The festival is celebrated in honour of Lord Jagannath, which means the ‘Lord of the Universe’. He is more popularly known as Lord Krishna. During this occasion, the idols of Krishna and his siblings Subhadra and Balabhadra ‘come out’ of the Jagannath Temple so that devotees from all creeds can offer respect.
This temple that has been plundered more than 15 times but still retains its ancient splendour. The temple is however only open to orthodox Hindus. The only time where every person irrespective of caste and creed can pay respect to the deities is during the Jagannath Rath Yatra. It is also one of the four most sacred temples in India and a crucial part of the Char Dam Yatra.
One story suggests that after Lord Krishna left his mortal body on earth. His siblings were devastated and jumped into the ocean. Simultaneously, the King of Puri dreamt that the Lords bones would float up his territory shores. And when that happened, he built a temple in their honour. The ‘Divine Architect’ Vishwakarma himself descended on Earth to create the idols. He asked the king not to disturb him while he was working in the temple, but the curious king happened to open the door after some months. Vishwakarma then disappeared leaving the idols half finished. Hence, the idols of Jagannath, Subhadra and Balabhadra are unfinished pieces. Nevertheless, King Indradyumna installed it in the sanctum. The temple came to be known as a revered site ever since.
Many legends and stories fabricate the reason as to why Jagannath Yatra is celebrated.
• One story suggests that one day Subhadra wanted to get out of her palace and see the town. This day both her brothers, Krishna and Balaram took her out on the chariot. Hence, in remembrance of this event, the Jagannath Yatra is celebrated every year.
• Another story goes something like this… Krishna’s evil Uncle Kamsa plotted against Krishna. He invited Krishna and Balabhadra to Mathura with the intention of killing them. The day the two brothers left for Matura is celebrated as Jagannath Yatra.
• Yet another legend says that it was a ritual among the three siblings to pay a visit to their aunt Gundicha. The Gundicha Temple is also the place where the Yatra ends. Hence, Lord Jagannath, Subhadra and Balabhadra come out for their yearly visit to pay a visit to their aunt.
• ‘Snan Yatra’ this is the procession where the idols of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra are bathed in a public ceremony on the ‘Snan Bedi’ podium. It takes place with appropriate Vedic rituals. This happens two weeks before the Yatra, after which the idols are wiped and set again in the temple premises.
• ‘Chhehra Pehara’, the grand ceremony where the king comes with a grand procession and invokes the deities. It ends with him sweeping the chariots with a golden broom.
• Once the idols are out and set in their respective carriages, the devotees pull the massive chariots using a rope.
• Echoes of horns, cymbals, whistles and the ‘Jai Jai Jagannath’ chants can be heard for kilometres.
• On the fifth day, the Hera Panchami takes place.
• For the ceremony 56 ‘bhogs’ are prepared, hence the name ‘Chappan Bhog’. The Jagannath Temple is also famous for the huge kitchen it hosts. It is one of the biggest in the country.
• A mysterious feature is the ‘Abasha’, the Prasad that cooks miraculously. It is said the pots are placed one over the other over a fire. What is extraordinary is the fact that the pot that is the furthest from the fire, i.e. at the top; cooks first.
• On reaching the Gundicha Temple, the idols are placed there for a week.
• A return journey to the Jagannath Temple is known as Bahuda Yatra.
New chariots are made every year and the idols are created every 12 years.
The three chariots are specially designed and are made to replicate the Jagannath Temple itself. Three different carts are designed each year for Jagannath, Subhadra and Balabhadra. They are made in specific dimensions and use a specific number of wood for each. They are built only by the trained Maharana artisans, and distinct colours are used for specific chariots. The chariots have names like Taladhwaja chariot for Balabhadra; Nandighosha chariot for Lord Jagannath, and Devadalana chariot for Subhadra.
The real essence behind this Rath Yatra can be explained by these famous words from the Katha Upanishad.
“Atmanam rathinam viddhi shareeram rathameva tu,
Buddhim tu sarathim viddhi manaha pragrahameva tu.
Indriyani hayanyahur vishayansteshu gocharan”
It means that the spirit is the master of the chariot, i.e. the earthly body. The charioteer, on the other hand, acts as the overseer of knowledge. The reins imply the power of the brain whereas the horses signify human sensation. The Pancha Vishayas (material objects of the five senses) are the grasslands for the horses.
Therefore, an individual’s charioteer should be headed by intelligence so as to be driven in the right direction using intelligent reasoning to control the senses. This, so as to break free from the ties of material existence and the cycle of birth and re-birth.