Puri Jagannath Yatra

Do you know the etymology of the word “juggernaut”? The word originated from Jagannath and means “overwhelming force”. It literally derives its meaning from the visual picture of the huge rath yatra of the Jagannath temple. The prime attraction of the festival are the elaborate chariots from time immemorial. There are three main chariots, each of different color, size, and height. The Nandighosa, Lord Jagannath’s Chariot has 18 wheels and is decorated with yellow and red fabric and has a height of 45.6 feet. The Taladhvaja, Lord Balabhadra’s Chariot has 16 wheels and is decorated with green and red fabric and has a height of 45 feet. The Devadalana, Goddess Subahdra’s chariot, has 14 wheels and is decorated with black and red fabric. It has a height of 44.6 feet. Each chariot is pulled by hand with the help of a 50 meter rope.

Legend has it that this Rath Yatra refers to the occasion when the mighty Lord Jagannath along with his elder brother Lord Balabhadra and his sister Goddess Subhadra travelled to visit and sojourn at his aunt’s place at the Gundicha Temple for 9 days. Their return home is the occasion called the Bahuda Jatra.  Spiritually the rath is compared to the “body”, the distance covered refers to the path taken by the body to reach its destination “moksha”, and the journey itself is known as Ratha Yatra.

Every year, the rituals start at least one month prior to the festival day, right from the construction of new chariots and the bathing of the idols called Snana Pornima. The healing of illnesses called the Ansara-ritual is held a fortnight before the festival. Another interesting ritual is called the Chhera Pahara where the King of Puri sweeps the floor of the chariots with a broom. He then cleans the streets and sprinkles sandalwood water before the procession of the chariots. This ritual signifies that even the highest power of the country is only a servant before God.

After 9 days, the Bahuda Jatra takes place. This is the deities’ journey back to the Shri Mandir which is celebrated by the people of Odisha with offerings of Poda Pitha, a kind of baked cake that is later consumed by the devotees.