July 16, 2018
Jagannath means “lord of the world” and is the form of Hindu gods Krishna/Vishnu/ Rama worshipped in Odisha. Odisha is known for its famous and sacred Jagannath Temple, which is in Puri. The Ratha Yatra or the Chariot festival is celebrated at the temple of Jagannath, associated with God Jagannath. The yatra this year begins tomorrow, i.e., July 14, and is celebrated particularly in Odisha, Jharkhand and parts of Eastern India.
Do you know why it’s celebrated?
Ratha Yatra, also celebrated internationally in countries like Dublin, Moscow and New York, is to commemorate Jagannath’s visit to Gundicha Temple through Mausi Maa Temple in Puri. Read on to know the story behind Lord Jagannath, his visit, the festival, and the temple.
Devdutt Pattanaik, who writes on relevance of mythology in modern times, writes in his memoir of the Ratha Yatra, ‘Gazing at a dying god’ that:
“Locally Jagannath is called Kaliya, for its black colour, with great affection, although modern colour prejudice makes many insist that Krishna is actually blue. He is God, of course, spelt with a capital G, but more than that he is your friend, as the dominant mood in the temple is of sakha-bhaav, devotion through the emotion of friendship.”
Through this memoir, Pattanaik has described his experience of the yatra along with the story behind the rituals, festivities and deities. Taking his explanation into account, we shall take you through some important things you should know about the symbolism and history of the Ratha Yatra.
Do you know why Jagannath is unique?
The unique feature of the temple is that Krishna is worshipped not with a spouse, but with his siblings, his elder brother Balabhadra and his younger sister Subhadra — accompanied by the Sudarshana Chakra.
The images are malformed, with no hands or feet, and disproportionately large heads.
They are not made of metal or stone, but of wood and cloth and resin, and therefore must be replaced from time to time, leading to rituals in which the enshrined deities fall sick, die and are reborn.
The story goes that when the image was being carved, the artisan had asked the patron king not to open the door until the work on the idols was completed. But the impatient king did open the door of the workshop, as he did not hear sounds of the wood being carved and polished. Thus, the idol were left incomplete.
During the festival, the deities are decorated with over 208 kg gold to complete their remaining limbs.
Do you know what happens before the yatra begins?
The start of the yatra happens with Odisha gearing up for the ceremony of the deity’s rebirth, called Nabakalebara, which takes place every 10-19 years.
Ths ritual takes place when the extra month (adhik maas) is meant to align the Hindu lunar calendar to the solar cycle, which appears in the summer which makes two months of Ashadha (June-July), not just the one.
Every year, in this month, when the summer is at its height, the deity and his siblings step out to bathe in public, unable to bear the heat inside the temple. This is called Snana Purnima.
Then, for the fortnight that follows, Krishna and his siblings take ill after they bathe with 108 pots of water under the blazing sun, and are kept in a recovery chamber called anasar ghar.
When they recover, their appetite returns and they wish to eat the food cooked by their aunt Gundicha, whose house is a little away from his temple.
So Krishna steps on his grand chariot and makes his way there. This is the start of the famous nine-day Jagannath Rath Yatra (this year it begins on 18 July), whose gigantic chariots inspired the British to coin the word “juggernaut”.
Do you know about the chariots of the deities?
The chariots of the deities are newly built every year. Jagannath’s chariot is called Nandighosa, the chariot of Balabhadra is called Taladhwaja and that of Subhadra is called Dwarpadalana.
The total number of wheels on Lord Jagannath’s chariot are 16, Lord Balabhadra’s chariot are 14 and Subhadra’s chariot are 12.