The story of the ‘Lord of the World’ and his grand Rath Yatra

The story of the ‘Lord of the World’ and his grand Rath Yatra

Mythology writer Devdutt Patnaik mentions, “He is God, of course, spelt with a capital G. But more than that, he is your friend.” Jagannath or the Lord of the World is one of the most beloved Gods of Hinduism. He is the nurturer of the world and it is that time of the year, when he comes out of his sanctum and meets millions of his devotees. The second day of Shukla Paksha of the Hindu month Ashada marks the onset of Lord Jagannath’s grand chariot ride from his temple to his maternal aunt’s home (Gundicha temple).

The 9 days of Yatra is not only a period of festivities but also numerous emotions. Devotees all around the world celebrate the festival by building chariots and Jagannath’s deity at home. Symbolically, this means hosting their sakha (friend) at their home, while he is away from his. Most of us are touched by the glory of Jagannath but do we really know the story of his existence and how the Rath Yatra started?

Rath Yatra
Image: Odishatv

The story of Jagannath

Legend goes, that King Indradyumna of Malwa, Central India was an ardent devotee of Vishnu and wanted to establish a grand and perfect deity of the Lord. After months of strenuous research, one of his pujaris found out that in the hills of Utkal (Odisha) an aboriginal tribe worship a form of Vishnu called Nil Madhaba that might be perfect. Unfortunately, Indradyumna could never find Nil Madhaba; instead he received a divine prophecy that he must travel to the sea and collect the log of wood that floats on the waves. From this log of wood a deity of Lord Vishnu be carved out that would be known as Jagannath. The king did as told. However, he could not find a carpenter who would do justice to this divine job. Finally, a carpenter convinced the king to allow him to carve the idol. But before starting work, he gave strict instructions that the door of the workshop should remain closed at all times till 21 days and in no circumstances should it be opened. However, the king grew restless after 15 days as no sound of carpentry was heard from the workshop. As the door opened, 3 half-done deities of Jagannath, Balbhadra and Subhadra were found; the carpenter had miraculously vanished. It is believed that the carpenter was none other than Lord Vishnu himself.

Image: Wikipedia

As the deities are made of wood, they are regularly replaced. In every 10-19 years during Rath Yatra, they are freshly made in the same design with wood. This ritual is known as Nabakelabara, which means new clothes, new form or rebirth. In the last century this ritual was performed in the years 1912, 1931, 1950, 1969, 1977, 1996, and 2015.

Every year before the Yatra, the deities are opulently decorated with tons of gold, gems, flowers and dressed in fine clothes.

The story and rituals of Rath Yatra

The world famous Jagannath Temple in Puri, Odisha is the only site where Lord Vishnu/Krishna is worshipped with his siblings and not with one of his spouses. The mood of the temple is unlike other temples. As Devdutt Patnaik aptly puts it, “The dominant mood in the temple is of sakha-bhaav, devotion through the emotion of friendship.”

Every year during this time, when summer is at its peak, i.e. June and July, the deities step out from their humid sanctum to bathe. This ritual is known as Deba Snana Purnima. After being thoroughly showered in the scorching heat, they fall ill and are kept to rest in the Anasar Ghar. They rest here for 9 days. On recovering, their appetite return and they wish to eat food cooked by their aunt Gundicha. On the 9th day of this ritual, Lord Jagannath and his siblings grace their magnificent chariots to visit their aunt’s home which is not far from the temple and on the way shower their blessings on the devotees who come to see them from places far and wide.

A very interesting incident happens every year on the first day of Rath Yatra. It is said that out of jealousy of her brother Jagannath’s popularity, Subhadra refuses to move and her chariot becomes impossible to pull. Now, she has to be pampered and re-assured that she is as important and revered as her brothers. This cajoling is a part of the rituals performed by the pujaris. Once done, her chariot wheels magically start rolling and eventually, they are ready for the ride.

The chariots

Rath yatra

The humongous chariots of Lord Jagannath and his siblings are freshly made every year without any change in the designs. Old school carpentry methods are employed for this and no metal nails or modern equipment is used. Making the chariots is a meticulous and specific work which not everyone can perform. Over 200 carpenters, blacksmiths, helps etc., work on a strict 58-day deadline. Only one family of carpenters is allowed to build the chariots. Therefore, there is no rule book of techniques; instead the knowledge is passed from one generation to another.

Local belief suggests that during Rath Yatra, the chariot becomes one with the God seated inside. Therefore, touching or pulling the chariot is said to bring good luck and prosperity.

Lord Jagannath’s chariot is called Nandighosa which is 45 feet tall and has 16 wheels. Devi Subhadra’s chariot is called Debadalana which means trampler of pride. It is 44 feet tall and has 12 wheels. Lord Bhalbhadra’s chariot is called Taladhwaja which means, the one with the palm tree on its flag. It is 45 feet tall and has 14 wheels.

The devotion

Rath yatra

During the days of Rath Yatra, devotion and emotion becomes one. Millions of devotees wait with bated breaths to get a glance of their almighty sakha. Their sakha, who they adore, who is God, but is as relatable as the boy next door, who they believe will grant all their wishes or they just feel grateful to him for choosing their home as his. A sea of people from places far and wide, gather around the temple and pull the chariot ropes to help their Lord reach his destination. The devotees raise their hands as they chant “Jay Jagannath,” which is to register their attendance, “I was here.” The entire town of Puri gets engulfed in an ecstatic form of devotion and affection for their Lord. The words “Jay Jagannath” echoes from each and every corner. Classical dancers perform the legends and folklores related to the Lord and his existence, outside the temple premises.

Tourists from all around the world flood the town and surrender their selves to the ultimate devotion. Lord Jagannath’s favourite desserts like Odisha’s special poda-pitha, gur payesh are distributed and eaten as part of the festivities. Miniature idols of the Gods and souvenirs related to the festival are massively bought and sold. In other words, Puri immerses in devotion.

The energy and emotions of the devotees are at its peak. The crowd, the chants, the jostling to touch the chariot, the stream of tears running from every devotee’s eyes, seem to be in sync with the supreme power. According to belief, the chariot symbolizes human body, the deity symbolizes the soul and the charioteer is the thoughts and wisdom that allow us to stay in the path of righteousness and morality.

Away from Odisha, the festival is celebrated with full fervour too. Devotees dress up children as Krishna, build chariots at home and celebrate 9 days of festivities.

As the 9-days of the divine Yatra started today, we wish a very Happy Rath Yatra.


(Financial Express)

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