The Significance of Jagannatha Ratha Yaathra (Puri Temple)
Custom of car festivals held in Hindu temples is not uncommon, but the one that is held at Puri Jagannath temple has unique significance. More than a million people from across the world participate in the car festival, perhaps largest gathering for a carnival. Sacred place Puri is known as Purushottama Kshethra, one of the popular names of Lord Vishnu. Pouranically reference about Purushottama kshethra is said to have been made in Skhaandha Purana. Puri is a sanskrit word meaning the town or city and Jagannatha Puri is the place where Lord Jagannatha resides.
Puri Kshethra is referred to as Saptha Puri, one of the seven most sacred and revered places in the Indian sub-continent. It is also known as one of the Char Dhaams, the four abodes of God in four directions viz. Badari in the North, Rameswaram in the South, Puri Jagannath in the East and Dwaraka in the West. These are said to be the most revered sites for Hindus to be visited at least once in their life time.
Main deities of the temple are Lord Jagannatha, Balabhadra (brother of Lord Sri Krishna), Subhadra (sister of Lord Sri Krishna) and Sudarshana (Chakra); While Jagannatha and Balabhadra are symbolizing the Vaasudeva and Sankarshana form of Lord SriManNarayana, Subhadra Devi symbolizes the divine energy of Lord Vishnu and Sudarshana as the gigantic universal kaalachakra adorning the hand of Lord Sri Maha Vishnu. It is the only temple where we find brothers and sister worshipped as main deities on the same platform.
Uniqueness of Puri Jagannatha temple is that the idols of main deities are made up of margosa wood and they appear with incomplete limbs; with large eyes without eyelids. Lord Jagannatha is considered as none other than Lord SriManNaaraayana in wooden form (Daaru) and the shape is said to have been originally designed by Lord Brahma himself. Lord is also known as Daaru Brahma. Brahmaadi Devathas are said to have performed Yagna at this place as a result of which Lord Vishnu manifested from the sea in the form of a giant Tree, the wood of which is shaped in the form of four idols (Jagannatha, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshana).
Lord Vishnu, in the name of Neelaa Maadhava, is said to have manifested at this place known as Neelaachala in Krutha Yuga in the Hindu lunar month Jyeshta maasam; Lord here is also revered as Neelaa Maadhava; one can find a Neelaa Sudarshana chakra on the top of Sri Jagannath temple tower. In ancient times the Lord was worshipped at this place as NeelaaMaadhava by Savara (tribal) king Viswaavasu. In commemoration and as per the customs of the temple, removal and reinstallation of the main idols for the purpose of Ratha Yaatra is being performed only by the descendants of the Savara tribal king and they are called as Daitas. Subsequently King Indradyumna constructed a temple for the deities which got destroyed in course of time. The present gigantic temple was built in the 12th century by Chodanganga Deva.
It is the only temple where idols of the main deities are changed once in twelve years and that generally coincides with Adhika Aashaada Maasam. Old idols are buried and new idols are made and installed. This ritual is known as Navakalebarotsavam. Nava means new and Kalebara means the body. In the process of changing idols specific and suitable margosa trees are selected for carving of idols, Daitas are involved along with other identified persons and it is held traditionally as per customs.
Height of Sri Jagannath temple tower is 214 ft. and it is in the shape of a counch (Shankha). This place is also known as Shankha Kshethra. Area of Jagannath temple is 10 acres (48000 sq yards). There are about 30 temples around the main temple. Every day 56 items of various dishes are prepared and offered as Naivedya to Lord Jaganaath.
Lot of significance is given to Puri Jagannath temple food Mahaprasad which is treated here as Anna Brahma. Temple kitchen has got the capacity to cook for a lakh of devotees in a day. Mahaprasad is cooked only in earthen pots and the medium of cooking is fire wood only. The steam cooked food is offered to Lord Jagannath first and then to Goddess Vimala after which it becomes Mahaprasad. This Mahaprasad is par-taken freely by people of all castes and creeds without any discrimination.
Puri car festival known as Jagannatha Ratha Yaathra is held every year for ten days starting from 2nd day of bright fortnight (Dwiteeya) in the Hindu lunar month Aashaada that generally falls during June-July of every year. On the first day, known as Gundicha Ratha Yaatra, idols of the Deities are taken in procession from Jagannath temple to Gundicha temple, where they are worshipped for ten days with all pooja and rituals. On the ninth day they are brought back and the return journey is known as Bahuda Yaatra for which the chariots are parked outside only. On the tenth day the Deities are adorned with gold ornaments. On the twelfth day the idols are taken inside and reinstalled inside the sanctum sanctorum.
During Ratha Yaathra the three deities Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra are taken out in procession mounted on separate chariots fully decorated and the distance covered by Ratha Yaathra is about 3 km. According to local legends Gundicha Ratha Yaatra is to commemorate the journey of Lord Sri Krishna and his brother Sri Balarama from Gokul to Mathura to kill his maternal uncle Kamsa.
It is a custom and tradition that during the car festival Maharaja of Puri sweeps the front yard of the chariots with a broom stick before commencement of Ratha Yaatra and the ritual is known as Chera Pahara.
Every year new chariots are made for the car festival. The work of making the new chariots begins on the 3rd day of the bright fortnight in Hindu Lunar month Vaisaakha maasam on the day of Akshaya Trutheeya. 125 carpenters are involved in construction of the chariots supported by nine sculptors along with the main priest of the temple.
During car festival the main deities are taken in procession to a temple known as Gundicha temple 3 km away from the temple. Gundicha was the name of Queen of King Indradyumna and the temple is believed to have been built by her and hence the name Gundicha Ratha Yaatra. It is the place where Vedic rituals (Yagna) were conducted in ancient days called MahaaVedi that is being known today as Gundicha mandir. Dharma Saaastras eulogize this place and to have darshan of the Lord at this place is considered as highly auspicious.
Height of Lord Jagannath’s chariot is 45ft with 16 wheels; Balabhadra 44ft with 14 wheels and Subhadra 43ft with 12 wheels. Chariot of Lord Jagannatha is known as Nandi Ghosha; Balabhadra is known as Thaaladhwaja, and Subhadra Devi is known as Darpadalana, also known as Padmadhwaja. Eight inch thick rope with 250 ft length is tied to each chariot for pulling it during Ratha Yaathra.
World famous Puri Jagannath temple is located on the banks of Bay of Bengal on the eastern sea board of India, about 60 km from the capital city of Orissa state – Bhubaneshwar. Puri is well connected by rail and road form all over the country. Nearest airport is at Bhubaneshwar. Nearby surrounding places to be visited are Konark, Saakhi Gopal, Bhuvaneshwar.
It is strongly believed and said that witnessing Jagannatha Ratha Yaathra and having darshan of Lord Jagannatha on the chariot is highly auspicious and one will have no rebirth (punarjanma).
“Sarvam Jagannathamayam” Whatever is happening in the universe is leela of Bhagavaan Sri Mahaa Vishnu who is Jagannatha the Lord of Universe.
Writer: Bhargava Sharma
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