Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Puri Rath Yatra

Dear Readers,

The word Juggernaut is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as :
a massive inexorable force, campaign, movement, or object that crushes whatever is in its path

The word is an anglicised version of the Sanskrit word Jagannath which literally means Lord of the World. The word came into existence during the British Raj when they witnessed the annual Rath Yatra of Puri, Orissa and were dumbstruck by the sheer size oF the Raths or chariots which were used in the Rath Yatra and how, once they started to move, it was difficult to stop them.

In due course of time the word Jagannath was anglicised to Juggernaut which now means any force that is unstoppable and merciless.

So, in order to learn more about this “Juggernautic” experience which gave rise to a whole new term in the english language we must now bring our language class to an end and turn our attention to the Rath Yatra of Puri Jagannath.

There are different kinds of festivals in this world. But in terms of the sheer size of the equipment used and the teeming mass of humanity that comes to partake and participate in the event, there is no equal to the festival of Rath Yatra of Puri Jagannath. It is not possible to even give a glimpse of the actual event in a simple article like this. Let's just say that if you ever decide to go on tour to witness the most notable things the worldover, then this event is a must. So, folks, do include this in your Bucket-List if you ever make one and I will only try to give a humble overview of the happenings of the event in this article.

The Rath Yatra of Puri Jagannath is held in the month of Aashad of the Hindu lunar calender which coincides with the months of June-July. This year the Rath Yatra of Puri Jagannath will be held on 21 June 2012.

The preparations however start 58 days before the event. That is when the wood cut from the special trees in the distant Daspalla forests are brought to Puri and the construction of the chariots begins. The chariots when finished would easily occupy a space of approx. 40 sq ft.

On the day of the Rath Yatra of Puri Jagannath, the beautifully decorated idols of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Sudarshana are carried one by one, by the volunteers and the Daitapatis to their respective chariots in the spectacular event called Pahandi.

After the idols are placed on their respective chariots, there is a riutal sweeping of chariots which is performed by the descendant of the Gajapati Kings of Puri. More about the Gajapatis in this wikipedia article. Then scented water is sprinkled all over the chariots. Then starts the day long Rath Yatra of Puri Jagannath. This is the only time of the year that non-hindus and foreigners who are otherwise not allowed inside the temple can get a glimpse of the dieties.

The Rath Yatra of Puri Jagannath is unique in another respect too. Generally in any procession of dieties associated with a temple, the statues utilised are specially made for such processions and are called Utsava Murtis. But, in Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra, the actual statues of dieties from the the sanctum-sanctorum of the temple are used in the procession. Hence from the start of Rath Yatra till the time the dieties do not return back to the temple, there is no statue inside the temple for worship.

Each chariot is tied with 4 robust ropes made of coconut fibres. One by one the chariots are pulled by the lakhs of men and women who come to Puri Jagannath to participate in the Rath Yatra. It is believed that volunteering to pull the chariot of Lord Jagannath washes away all our sins and liberates us from the cycle of birth and rebirth. First comes the charitot of Lord Balabhadra which is known as Taladhwaja followed by the chariot of Devi Subhadra known as Darpadalana and finally the chariot of Lord Jagannath, the magnificent Nandighosa. The procession is accompanied with various music and dance perfomances.

Following is a short video footage of the Rath Yatra so that you get a glimpse of the event :

For more details of the chariots used visit here

All three chariots are pulled from the Shrimandir to Gundicha Mandir, covering a distance of 3km. The chariots reach the Gundicha Mandir by the evening of the day and then the dieties stay in the Gundicha Mandir for 7 days.

At the end of 7 Days the dieties are brought back to the Shrimandir in another procession called the Bahuda Yatra.

Mythology :

It is believed that Krishna was killed by a poisonous arrow fired by a hunter accidentally. After the death of Krishna the last rites were performed as per the relegious practices and his mortal remains were immersed in water.

It is said that King Indradyumna who ruled Puri dreamt that the mortal remains of Krishna will float to Puri's shores. As envisioned in his dream, the next day the mortal remains of Krishna floated to Puri. Indradyumna was instructed to build a temple in Puri for Lord Jagannath , Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra and install the mortal remains of Krishna in the hollow of the statue.

Now, the question was, who was to construct the statues? An old carpenter agreed for the job , but on one condition. He should not be disturbed till completion of the job. The king agreed to the condition.

For months the doors of the temple remained closed with no word of progress. Only sounds could be heard of working with wood.

All of us remember the adage “Curiosity Kills the Cat”. Well, king Indradyumna became impatient day by day until one day, unable to hold himself back, he opened the doors to see just what was the old man doing inside for so long? And Lo, the carpenter vanished with half completed idols of the three dieties in the santum sanctorum. It was then the king realised that the old carpenter was none other than the divine architect Vishwakarma. The King installed the dieties in the temple in their half completed form and they remain so to this day.

It is said that the ceremony of Rath Yatra also was started in Indradyumna's reign by his queen Rani Gundicha.

Every year the chariots are newly built for the Rath Yatra. The massive task of building the chariots is completed within a span of just 58 days starting from the day of Akshaya Tritiya which occurs in the month of April-May.

Also every 12 years the Idols are also changed and new idols are built from wood cut from special trees. The new idols are also in the same incomplete form. This ceremony of changing idols is called Naba Kalebara.

Travel Advice :

If you want to visit Puri during the Rath Yatra, make your accomodation arrangements well in advance. Due to the sheer number of people attending the event from all over the country and abroad, last minute preparations are definitely not possible. This year the Rath Yatra of Puri Jagannath will be held on 21 June 2012. Following is a search of hotels in puri :

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Puri is accessible from most Indian cities by a well connected network of trains. The nearest airport to Puri is at Bhubaneshwar, the capital city of the Indian state of Orissa. From Bhubaneshwar to Puri the distance is about 60km. In case you don't find any accomodation in Puri, the next best thing to do is to stay at Bhubaneshwar and then drive down to Puri for the event.

Following is a search of hotels in Bhubaneshwar :

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Following is a map showing the directions from Bhubaneshwar to Puri : 

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This page at wikitravel also gives some valuble advice for travel to Puri and also lists some other attractions in and around the temple town.

That's all for now. I will meet again with another interesting festival at the earliest. Bye!!
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