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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Know more about the Jagannath Puri Dhaam and the 9-day-long Rath Yatra

After a lot of struggle, the devotees of Bhagwan Jagannath gained the permission of conducting the Rath Yatra this year also and were able to continue with a tradition going on for hundreds of years. The Jagannath Rath yatra was carried out, albeit, following the restrictions and guidelines laid out for Covid-19 containment.

Old stock photos of Rath Yatra, from a previous year

For those who are curious to know why it was so significant that the Yatra is carried out even in the times of Covid-19, here are some unique and lesser-known facts about the Puri Dhaam and Bhagwan Jagannath’s Rath Yatra, which is a nine-day long celebration.

  • Though Bharat is not ruled by monarchies anymore, the erstwhile Maharaja of Puri still presides over the Ratha yatra. Bhagwan Jagannath comes out of his temple along with his siblings, and his ceremonious journey starts only after the erstwhile King of Puri Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb sweeps the path with a broom having a gold handle. This ritual is called the ‘Chhera Pahanra’.
  • There is an interesting story behind the Rath Yatra. It is believed that Bhagwan Jagannath catches a high fever during this time. Hence the entry of the Puri Jagannath Temple is shut down, the sanctum sanctorum is not accessible to anyone as God is given time to recuperate from his fever. After he recovers, he needs a change, and thus he goes to his mashi bari (maternal aunt’s home) for a visit with his siblings, Subhadra and Balabhadra.

  • The Rath Yatra is Bhagwan Jagannath’s yatra (journey) to his mashi bari i.e. aunt’s home which is around 2.5 km away. He is going to visit her along with brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra, and stays there for 8 days. The three deities travel in three different chariots, namely, Nandighosha that runs on 18 wheels, Taladhwaja that runs on 16 wheels, and Padmadhwaja on 14 wheels.
  • The Jagannath Dhaam of Odisha is one of the very few traditional temples that allows only Hindus to enter the premise and offer prayers. This tradition could have started as a result of the 18 invasions and plunder that the temple suffered during Muslim rule. Liberal activists have tried to attack this tradition, but the temple servitors have managed thus far to maintain the sanctity of the temple. A temple is a religious place, it is not a tourist spot or government office to flaunt secularism, believe Jagannath devotees; and it should stay that way before Hindu-hating elements enter the pious Hindu dhaam with ulterior motives. However, during the Rath Yatra, Bhagwan Jagannath, along with Subhadra and Balabhadra comes outside the temple premise and people of all communities approach the rath irrespective of backgrounds.
  • The spectacular chariots of the deities are newly constructed every year for the Rath Yatra. The raw material, including the wood used in the construction, is new. But the model of the chariot, its structure, size, and design including the four wooden horses attached at the front, remains constant.  The canopies of the chariots are made from 1200 meters of fabric by a team of 15 tailors. The chariot magnificently resembles the architecture of ancient Hindu temples.
  • Bhagwan Jagannath is a manifestation of the ever-so-naughty Sri Krishna. Being true to his naughty ways, at the beginning of the Rath Yatra festivity, it is said that Jagannath throws a tantrum and refuses to move. The contest of strength between the deity and the devotees continues for hours till a cosmic power takes over. And then the same chariot, with the same weight, pulled by the same devotees, starts to move smoothly.
  • Trained members of a particular family climb the temple by scaling its steep exterior walls, as tall as a 45-storied building, to change the flag every day. This ritual is being observed for 800 years. They say, if the ritual is missed even for one day, the temple will remain shut for 18 years.

  • Devotees believe there is a divine power around the temple which gives rise to some unexplained phenomena. It is believed that the temple casts no shadows, at any given time of the day. The flag mounted on the Jagannath Temple is also believed to flutter in the direction opposite of the wind. And finally, no bird flies over the temple.

The Jagannath Temple is one of the epicenters of Hindu Dharma. Being a part of the Puri Rath Yatra is something every Hindu must experience at least once in their lifetime.

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