The Rathas/Chariots of Jagannath’s Chariot Parade/ Ratha Yatra at Puri

The word ‘Juggernaut’, meaning a large and heavy vehicle and also a huge, powerful, and overwhelming force, was coined in by the British when they saw the Chariot Parade or Rath Yatra at Puri, a beach town in Odisha. This festival is unfathomably grand, with millions of devotees visiting Puri from all across the globe. ‘Yatra’ means pilgrimage; during Ratha Yatra pilgrims flood in to see the travelling god. Lord Jagannath travels every year with his sister, Subhadra, and brother, Balabhadra, to his aunt’s house at the neighbouring Gundicha Temple, 3 kms from their residence, the famous Jagannath Temple of Puri. Each deity has their respective chariots which are brightly coloured and majestic. These chariots are built every year and the process starts from more than 2 months before the festival. This is a festival where faith, mythology, legends, craftsmanship, art and culture merge.

Wood for Chariot Making of Rath Yatra at PuriPermalink

Every year the Odisha government supplies the wood for the chariots to the temple authorities free of cost. More than 1000 logs of of Phasi, Dhaura (Anogeissus latifolia), Asan (Terminalia elliptica) and Simal (Bombax ceiba), along with a few other trees (12 species) are majorly used for the construction of chariots of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra every year. This year loads of logs are donated to the temple committee by private land owners of Nayagarh and Khordha Districts of Odisha. After the festival of Ratha Yatra at Puri, the chariots are dismantled and the wood goes to the temple’s mega kitchen, to be used as firewood to cook prasad for the deities. The mega kitchen provides Prasad/bhog to at least 30,000 devotees daily. 6 times 56 types of bhog is offered to Lord Jagannath and there are more than 500 cooks for that.

The World Famous Chariots of PuriPermalink

Three chariots each for the three deities are constructed every year in the same traditional pattern, without any written documented instructions. Instructions have been handed over orally for generations to the carpenters, blacksmiths, artisans, craftsmen, painters and tailors. These chariots are more than 40 feet high and the artisans begin with their gigantic wheels with a diameter of 7 feet. A total of 42 wheels are constructed. The rathas are deula-shaped, inspired by the Odisha temple architecture. Their and frames have paintings and carvings inspired by ancient Odisha Temple art and architecture too. They are also covered with vibrant fabrics with intricate Odisha embroideries. In front of the chariots are wooden statues of charioteers and horses and the devotees pull the holy ropes tied to the chariots. They are literally no ordinary ropes. Each rope is 220 feet long and has a circumference of 8 inches. Odisha Cooperative Coir Corporation (OCCC) supplies these ropes to the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA). The astonishing fact about chariots of Ratha Yatra at Puri is that every element of each chariot is specific to that particular chariot only.

Nandighosha, the Chariot of Lord Jagannath

Nandighosha, the Ratha of Lord Jagannath is also called Garudadhwaja and/or Kapidhwaja. It is almost 45 feet high and 35 feet wide, covered in vibrant red and yellow fabrics. The flag on top is called Trailakyamohini. The deity of Lord Jagannath is brought out of the temple by the priests with a left to right swing. The Jagannath ratha has 16 wheels. Garuda is the guard and Daruka is the charioteer and there are 4 white horses of the chariot; Sankha, Balahaka, Suweta and Haridashwa. Nandighosha’s rope is called Sankhachuda Naguni. The 9 deities carved on the ratha are Varaha, Gobardhana, Gopi Krishna, Nrishingha, Rama, Narayana, Trivikrama, Hanuman and Rudra. The face of the chariot is called Nandi Mukha and weapons associated with this particular chariot are Sankha and Chakra, those of Lord Vishnu. Vishnu is also worshiped as Lord Jagannath, the Lord of the Universe and Puri Dham is one of the Char Dhams. Understanding Ratha Yatra at Puri is incomplete without detailed knowledge of the rathas where every element of design is distinct and specific to each ratha.

Padmadhwaja, the Chariot of Lord Jagannath’s Sister, Subhadra

Subhadra’s Ratha is also called Darpadalana and/or Devadalana and is almost 42 feet high and 31 feet wide, covered in vibrant red and black fabrics. The flag on top is called Nadambika. The deity of Subhadra is brought out of the temple by the priests with out swinging, almost in a sleeping position.This ratha has 12 wheels. Jayadurga is the guard and Arjuna is the charioteer and there are 4 brown horses of the chariot; Rochika, Mochika, Jita and Aparajita. The rope of this Ratha is called Swarnachuda Naguni. 9 female deities are carved on the ratha; Chandi, Chamunda, Ugra Tara, Vana Durga, Shuli Durga, Varahi, Shyama Kali, Mangala and Vimala. Subhadra’s ratha stands in between the rathas of her brothers during Ratha Yatra at Puri. The face of the chariot is known as Bhakti Sumedha and Padma and Kalhar are the associated weapons.

Taladhwaja, the Chariot of Lord Jagannath’s Brother, BalabhadraPermalink

Balabhadra’s Ratha is called Taladhwaja and is almost 43 feet tall and 33 feet wide, covered in vibrant red and green fabrics with Unnani, the flag on. The deity of Balabhadra is brought out of the temple by the priests with a front to back swing.This ratha has 14 wheels. Basudev is the guard and Matali is the charioteer. The 4 black horses of the chariot are Tibra, Ghora, Dirghasharma and Swarnanabha. Taladhwaja’s rope is called Basuki Naga. 9 deities presiding on the ratha are Ganesh, Kartikeya, Sarbamangala, Pralambari, Hatayudha, Mrutyunjaya, Nalamvara, Mukteswar and Sheshadeva. The face of the chariot is called Ketu Bhadra and weapons associated with this particular chariot are Hala and Masula.

Some Interesting Facts about Ratha Yatra at PuriPermalink

➼Akshaya Tritiya (falls between end of April and early May) marks the start of chariot making for Ratha Yatra at Puri which takes place between end of June and early July.

➼Ulta Ratha is the return journey of the chariots with the deities from the Gundicha Temple after eight days. This marks the end of the Ratha Yatra at Puri. This year the date of Ratha Yatra is 01.07.2022 and that of Ulto Raths is 08.07.2022.

➼The Snan Yatra happens 14 days before ratha yatra where the deities are bathed and then for the next 14 days the temple is closed for visitors as the legend states that the deities have fever after for these days. During Nabakalebar when the deities are reconstructed (once in 8, 12 and 19 years respectively), 45 days after the Snan Yatra, Ratha Yatra takes place.

➼The erstwhile King, Gajapati Maharaja Divyasingha Deva performs the iconic ‘Chhera Pahara’, where he cleans the three chariots with a golden broom and sandalwood-scented water before the start of the yatra. He is the chief religious functionary of the temple is the de-facto chairman of the Shri Jagannatha Temple Managing Committee. This ritual is symbolical, representing the fact that everyone is equal at the feet of the lord.

➼There is a ritual halt of Lord Jagannath’s chariot at Salabeg’s tomb which is a reminder of universality of deity-devotee relation and that there is no divide in the eyes of God.

Puri, One of the Char Dhams and its Simbolic Ratha Yatra

You can well understand what it takes to prepare for the festival of Ratha Yatra at Puri. The day before the Ratha Yatra, the three massive chariots are brought in front of the Lion Gate (Singha Dwar) of the temple. Puri is flooded with people and humongous security forces are deployed to guard and ensure the safety of the devotees and special trains to Puri run across India. Ratha Yatra is metaphorical, it represents our life as a journey. The body is built of elements and is destroyed just as the rathas are constructed and dismantled every year. The wheels represent life as it moves on, the charioteer is the soul and the horses are the senses or consciousness. The road ‘Bada Danda’on which the chariot travels represent the road to nirvana or salvation, When our body, mind, senses and the soul are in sync, we do have a successful journey of life, a life where we attain moksha or salvation.
Dipannita Bhattacherya

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