The Shree Jagannath Rath Yatra, also known as the Chariot Festival or Gundicha Yatra, is an annual Hindu festival celebrated in the city of Puri, Odisha, India. It is one of the most significant and eagerly awaited festivals dedicated to Lord Jagannath, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and his siblings, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra.
The Rath Yatra marks the journey of Lord Jagannath, along with his brother and sister, from their temple, the Shree Jagannath Temple, to the Gundicha Temple, located about 3 kilometers away. The festival takes place during the Hindu month of Ashadha (June or July) on the second day of the waxing moon (Shukla Paksha Dwitiya).
Preparations for the Rath Yatra begin weeks in advance. The deities are ceremonially brought out of the sanctum of the Shree Jagannath Temple in a grand procession known as Pahandi. They are placed on three massive chariots, which are built anew every year. The chariots are beautifully decorated and named after each deity: Nandighosa for Lord Jagannath, Taladhwaja for Lord Balabhadra, and Darpadalana for Devi Subhadra.
Once the deities are placed on the chariots, the devotees eagerly participate in pulling the chariots with ropes tied to them. Thousands of devotees from all walks of life throng the streets of Puri to witness and take part in this grand procession. The atmosphere is filled with joy, devotion, and religious fervor as people chant hymns, sing devotional songs, and dance in ecstasy.
The Rath Yatra procession covers a distance of about 3 kilometers from the Shree Jagannath Temple to the Gundicha Temple. The chariots move slowly amidst the enthusiastic crowd, and people shower the deities with flowers and seek their blessings. It is believed that participating in the Rath Yatra and getting a glimpse of the deities or even touching the ropes of the chariots is highly auspicious and brings immense spiritual merit.
Upon reaching the Gundicha Temple, the deities stay there for nine days, during which they receive homage and offerings from devotees.
It symbolizes the journey of Lord Jagannath and his siblings to their birthplace, the Gundicha Temple, which is believed to be the home of their aunt. The festival is also seen as an occasion to promote unity, harmony, and equality, as people from all sections of society participate in the grand event without any distinction of caste, creed, or gender.
The Shree Jagannath Rath Yatra attracts millions of devotees and tourists from all over the world, making it one of the largest and most vibrant religious processions in India. The festival showcases the rich cultural heritage of Odisha and serves as a testimony to the devotion and love that people have for Lord Jagannath and his divine siblings.