Rathayatra: A festival of secularism and harmony

The annual Ratha Yatra of Lord Jagannath of Puri on Tuesday signifies secularism and harmony while also demonstrating similarities between celestial beings and mortals.

Bhubaneswar: The annual Ratha Yatra of Lord Jagannath of Puri on Tuesday signifies secularism and harmony while also demonstrating similarities between celestial beings and mortals.

The car festival, narrates the experiences of the presiding deities of the 12th century shrine like joys and sickness and how they descend on the road to mingle with devotees.

"Ratha Yatra spreads the message of secularism, brotherhood and harmony as it is an occasion for devotees to have a darshan of the Lord, touch and even embrace them
without any discrimination of caste, religion or creed," noted researcher of Jagannath culture, Bhaskar Mishra says.

The Ratha Yatra is the most important festival of the Sri Jagannath temple and involves a chain of events including Snana utsav, Naba Jaubana darshan, car festival, Hera Panchami, Sandhya Darshan, Bahuda Yatra, Suna Besa and Niladri Bije, Mishra says.

The story begins on Akshaya Trutiya, the third day of the bright fortnight of Vaisakha, when construction of three giant chariots of Lord Jagannath, his elder brother Lord
Balabhadra and their sister Devi Subhadra starts.

It also marks the start of the summer festival of the deities, popularly known as sandalwood festival or Chandan Yatra, which lasts for three weeks.

Images of the presiding deities are taken out in procession for a ceremonial boat ride in the Narendra tank every day for respite from sweltering heat.

Chandan Yatra culminates in the Snana Yatra, the Bathing Festival on full moon day of the month of Jestha when the deities are taken from the Ratna Simhasan, the jewelled
throne in the sanctum sanctorum, to the Snan Mandap.

In all 108 pots of water brought from the suna kua or the golden well are used to bathe the deities who are believed to be assuming elephant form on the special bathing platform
in the temple premises.

It is believed that the grand bath, however, makes the deities "ill" and from that day the trinity remain in ritual convalescence for about two weeks. Devotees are barred from
viewing them suring the period, says Mishra.

When confined to the sick chamber, three special patta chitras, traditional Orissa paintings on stiff cloth, known as Anasara Pattis, are strung on a bamboo screen to hide the deities from public view.

The deities are given only roots, leaves, berries and fruits for cure.

This ritual is a reminder of the strong tribal elements in the genesis and evolution of the Jagannatha cult, says an official of Sri Jagannath Temple administration.

The sickenss phase ends the day preceding the ceremonial stepping out of the temple complex by the deities.

The deities are freshly coated with paint and the eyes are painted in a ritual called netrostava, Mishra said.

The deities then reappear for public view in a ceremony known as the Nava Jaubana Darshana, a celebration signifying renewal of youth.

Devotees in large number throng the temple to have a glimpse of the Lord after a 15-day break.

Finally, the festival of chariots arrives when the presiding deities set out to meet the eyes of millions of their devotees.

"Except Sri Jagannath temple, nowhere else presiding deities of any shrine move out to give darshan to devotees," he claimed.

The journey of the deities to the world outside, starts with an elaborate royal ritual called Pahandi.

All the deities move together. At first Sudarshana, the celestial wheel of Krishna-Vishnu, is brought out and placed in the chariot of Subhadra followed by Balabhadra,
Subhadra and finally Jagannatha.

Equally colourful and elaborate ritual is the Chhera Pahanra when the Gajapati King of Puri, clad in spotless white, carried on a silver-plated palanquin leaves his palace
and arrives in a small procession on the grand avenue.

After offering prayers to the deity, the King sweeps the platforms with a golden broom and sprinkles flowers and fragrant water on the chariot.

The chariot of Lord Balabhadra is pulled first followed by that of Goddess Subhadra. Lastly, the chariot of Lord Jagannatha, Nandighosha begins to roll on Bada Danda, the
grand avenue to the Gundicha temple, considered to be their aunt`s abode.

After staying at adapa mandapa, also known as their place of birth, the deities begin the Bahuda Yatra or the return journey on the ninth day of the festival.

The deities stop a short while for a taste of poda pitha - a cake made of rice, lentils, jaggery and coconut, offered by their aunt.

During the return to the temple, the hands, arms and crowns of the deities are attired in gold in a special ceremony called the suna besa.

Sweet drinks called adhara pana are offered to the deities in huge cylindrical earthen pots before they are taken down from the chariots in a ritual to enter the temple.

The temple gate, however, is shut as Lord Jagannatha`s celestial consort Maha Laxmi, "is upset" at being left behind during the Lords` sojourn to their aunt`s place.
Her anger is articulated by her companions from inside.

Another group representing Lord Jagannatha responds with entreaties and endearments. The celestial couple finally make up and the deities return to the complex to adorn the
ratna sinhasana.

"From the beginning to the end, the festival shows how the heavenly beings lead a lifestyle akin to that of mortal humans," adds Mishra.


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