RATHA YATRA
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RATHA YATRA

On the second day of the bright half of Ashadha (June-July), Ratha Yatra is celebrated throughout the country, and chariot procession of Sri Jagannath (Lord of the Universe) are taken out through the main markets and streets. But the main festival is held at Puri in Orissa.

The Car Festival of Puri is famous all over the world and thousands of devotees from the country and abroad participate in this most spectacular religious event. The 12th century imposing Jagannath shrine, 60 kms from Bhubaneshwar, is situated on Nilachala mountain. It is one of the four great holy places. The other three are Badrinath, Dwarka and Rameshwaram.

For a devout Hindu, a pilgrimage to Jagannath Puri is a must and a life long ambition. It is believed that a three days and nights sojourn to Puri will free a pilgrim from future births and deaths. Most of the time it is crowded with pilgrims, but on the occasion of Ratha Yatra, Puri becomes a ocean of seeting humanity. On this auspicious day, Lord Jagannath is taken out in a huge procession and on an enormous chariot, 45 feet high, 35 feet square, and supported on 16 wheels, 7 feet in diameter. The chariot is drawn by thousands of devotees who view with one another to have this honour.

The other two chariots are those of Balbhadra and Subhadra brother and sister of Sri Krishna. Balbhadra's chariot is 44 feet high and has 14 wheels, while that of Subhadra is 43 feet high and has 12 wheels. The event commemorates Krishna's journey to Mathura from Gokul at Kansa's invitation. The chariot procession goes along the broad avenue to Gundicha Mandir, the Lord's Summer Garden House, where they stay for seven days and then are brought back to the temple. At the termination of the ceremony, the chariots are broken up and used to manufacture religious relic. Every year new chariots are made. The deities themselves are made of wood and renewed at certain intervals when certain astronomical conditions are there. The wood selected for this purpose must also satisfy certain conditions.

During the past one and half centuries, the images were remade in 1863, 1893, 1931, 1950, 1969 and 1977.

An outstanding feature of the temple is that there is no cast distinction and all are equal whether one happens to be a brahmin or a chandal or shudra. The other festival celebrated here with great fervour is the bathing festival or Snan Yatra in Jyeshtha. But Ratha Yatra is the most fantastic and captivating annual event. The legend of the origin of Lord Jagannath is equally fantastic. Krishna was killed by a hunter named Jara in ignorance, and Krishna's body was left to rot under a tree. But some pious persons found his bones and placed them in a box. Later Vishnu directed a devout king Indradyumna in a dream to make an image of Jagannath and to place the bones of Krishna inside it. Vishwakarma, the architect of the gods was assigned the job of milking the image.

He agreed on the condition that he should be left undisturbed till the work was complete. A fortnight passed and the k ing grew impatient and entered the place, which made Vishwakarma angry, and he left the images unfinished. That is why the deities have neither hands nor feet. Indradyumna prayed to Brahma, who promised to make the image famous. Brahma gave the images eyes and souls and also acted as the high priest at consecration. The king of Puri, the descendant of king Anantavarman Chodaganga, the original founder of the temple, alone has the right to carry the Lord's umbrella and other paraphernalia, and it is he who sweeps the path before the chariots.

Over 6,000 male adults are in the Lord's service, headed by the kind. Some 20,000 people are said in all to be dependent on the temple for their livelihood. The Jagannath temple is a kind of world in itself. The festival is observed almost everywhere in the country where there is a temple dedicated to Jagannath.