Every year in mid-summer, Lord Jagannath, with his elder brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra, goes on vacation, travelling on grand chariots, from his temple in Puri, to his garden palace in the countryside. This belief of the Hindus has given rise to one of the biggest religious festivals in India — the Rath Yatra or the Chariot Festival.
How the Festival is Celebrated
The festival begins with the Ratha Prathistha or invoking ceremony in the morning, but the Ratha Tana or chariot pulling is the most exciting part of the festival, which begins in the late afternoon when the chariots of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhdra start rolling. Each of these carriages have different specifications: The chariot of Lord Jagannath is called Nandighosa, has 18 wheels and is 23 cubits high; the chariot of Balabhadra, called Taladhvaja has 16 wheels and is 22 cubits high; Devadalana, the chariot of Subhadra has 14 wheels and is 21 cubits high.
Each year these wooden chariots are constructed anew in accordance with religious specifications. The idols of these three deities are also made of wood and they are religiously replaced by new ones every after 12 years. After a nine-day sojourn of the deities at the country temple amidst festivities, the divine summer vacation gets over and the three return to the city temple of Lord Jagannath.
Rath Yatra is a great festival because of its ability to unite people in its festivity. All people, rich and poor, brahmins or shudras equally enjoy the fairs and the joy they bring. You will be amazed to know that even Muslims participate in Rath Yatras! Muslim residents of Narayanpur, a village of about a thousand families in the Subarnapur district of Orissa, regularly take part in the festival, from building the chariots to pulling the rath.
– ASWIN KUMAR
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