Rathyatra of Lord Jagannath held at Puri(Orissa), every year during the months of June or July.This festival is devoted to Lord Vishnu. It is believed that Lord Jagannath with his elder brother Lord Balarama and sister Subhadra, goes on vacation, travelling from his temple in Puri, to their aunt' s temple, the Gundicha Temple which is situated at a distance of 2 km from their temple.
Rath Yatra is of great significance to the Hindus. It is during this time that the three deities of Jagannath, Lord Balarama and Subhadra are taken out in a grand procession in specially made temple-like chariots called raths, which are pulled by thousands of devotees.
Historical OriginMany believe that the custom of placing idols on grand chariots and pulling them is of Buddhist origin. Fa Hien, the Chinese historian, who visited India in the 5th century AD, had written about the chariot of Buddha being pulled along public roads.
The most significant ritual associated with the Ratha-Yatra is the chhera pahara. During the festival, the Gajapati King wears the outfit of a sweeper and sweeps all around the deities and chariots in the Chera Pahara (Sweeping with water) ritual. The Gajapati King cleanses the road before the chariots with a gold-handled broom and sprinkles sandalwood water and powder with utmost devotion. As per the custom, although the Gajapati King has been considered the most exalted person in the Kalingan kingdom, still he renders the menial service to Jagannath. This ritual signified that under the lordship of Jagannath, there is no distinction between the powerful sovereign Gajapati King and the most humble devotee.
Chera pahara is held on two days, on the first day of the Ratha Yatra, when the deities are taken to garden house at Mausi Maa Temple and again on the last day of the festival, when the deities are ceremoniously brought back to the Shri Mandir.
As per another ritual, when the deities are taken out from the Shri Mandir to the Chariots in Pahandi vijay, disgruntled devotees hold a right to offer kicks, slaps and the derogatory remarks to the images, and Jagannath behaves like a commoner.
In the Ratha Yatra, the three deities are taken from the Jagannath Temple in the chariots to the Gundicha Temple, where they stay for seven days. Thereafter, the deities again ride the chariots back to Shri Mandir in bahuda yatra. On the way back, the three chariots halt at the Mausi Maa Temple and the deities are offered Poda Pitha, a kind of baked cake which are generally consumed by the poor sections only.
The observance of the Rath Yatra of Jagannath dates back to the period of the Puranas. Vivid descriptions of this festival are found in Brahma Purana, Padma Purana and Skanda Purana. Kapila Samhita also refers to Rath Yatra. In Moghul period also, King Ramsingh of Jaipur, Rajasthan has been described as organizing the Rath Yatra in the 18th Century. In Orissa, Kings of Mayurbhanj and Parlakhemundi were organizing the Rath Yatra, though the most grand festival in terms of scale and popularity takes place at Puri.