Rath Yatra, the car festival, is an annual ritual celebrated at Jagannath Temple in Puri, Orissa. ‘Rath’ means ‘chariot’ and ‘Yatra’ means a ‘pilgrimage’ or ‘procession’. Starting from the second day of the waxing phase of the moon of the Ashadha month (mid June – mid July), the festival lasts for ten days.
Dating back to the 10th - 11th century, there are many traditional stories associated with this festival. One tells us that King Indradyumna was asked by Jagannatha to take him to his birth place, the Gundica Mandira (symbolically
Vrindavan), on this day. Another one has it that this festival commemorates the journey of
Lord Krishna to Mathura.
The festival begins with a huge fanfare of conches, trumpets, drums and cymbals. During the Yatra,
Lord Jagannath, his sister
Subhadra and brother Balabhadra visit the garden temple at Gundicha Ghar (3 km away). The deities are adorned beautifully and are kept in traditionally decorated massive chariots that are pulled by thousands of devotees. Jagannath's sixteen wheeled chariot, the biggest, is 35 ft square, 45 ft high and 7 ft in diameter. It is pulled by over 4000 devotees. To distinguish between the deities, the rathas are decorated with different symbols and colors. Jagannatha's rath is marked with a chakra and garuda and with four white horses. It is yellow in color. On the way, the procession stops in between and the deities take bath in pancamrta and cool water. After that
naivedyam and aratrika are offered. On returning, Jagannath stops again at the Goddess Ardhamsini temple and receives bogh (Poda Pitha). On the tenth day the lord reaches the main temple.
Every year new chariots are made which are similar to the older ones. Thousands of devotees participate in this grand festival. Similar to this festival, celebrations are carried out in other parts of India during this time. Notable among them are the ones at
Ahmedabad, Ramnagar near Varanasi, Serampore near Kolkata and
Jagannathpur near Ranchi. Puri is 60 km south of Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Orissa.