The Great Chariot Festival of Puri
Jagannath Temple dedicated to Lord Jagannath at Puri is One of the Four Holiest Shrines of India. Though it celebrates as large a number as that of 24 Festivals in an year the Most Important One that it celebrates is the Chariot Festival or ‘Rath Yatra’ or Car Festival. It is celebrated in the Fourth Month of Hindu Calendar called ‘Ashadha’ which generally falls in the month of June-July every year.
Puri is located approximately 65 km from Bhubaneshwar, the Capital City of Orissa State, India.
Before the commencement of the Festival Huge Wooden Statues of all the Three Deities are carved out with Big Floral Crowns or ‘Tahias’ placed upon them. The Chariot Festival starts when Three Deities of Jagannath Temple, namely Lord Jagannath, his Elder Brother Lord Balbhadra and Sister Goddess Subhadra are taken out of Temple in Three Separate Chariots in a Spectacular Procession called ‘Pahandi’ to another Temple of Town called Gundicha Temple. Thousands of devotees pull these Three Chariots with the accompaniment of beat of cymbals, drums, etc, with Chanting the Names of Deities. Chariot of Lord Jagannath is called ‘Nandighosh’, that of Balbhadra and Subhadra are called ‘Taladhwaja’ and ‘Padmadhwaja’ respectively.
The 45 Feet High ‘Nandighosh’ has 16 wheels decorated with red and yellow fabric on its roof. ‘Taladhwaja’ is 44 Feet High with 14 wheels and a roof in red and green adorned with a fruit on top. The 43 Feet Tall ‘Padmadhvaja’ has 12 wheels with a roof in red and black. Four highly decorated wooden horses precede each of the chariots.
Chariot of Balabhadra moves first followed by those of Subhadra and Jagannath. Chariots move slowly until they reach Gundicha Temple which is located 3 km from Jagannath Temple and the Three Deities take rest for a night at entrance of Temple in their chariots. They enter Temple on the next day in a spectacular procession and stay there for Seven Days.
After their Seven Days stay there Deities commence their Return Journey called ‘Bahuda Yatra’ in the same order as in Car Festival. On his way back Lord Jagannath stops at ‘Ardhasani ‘ Temple or Temple of Aunt. Lord accepts rice cake from his Aunt . The Three Chariots pulled by thousands of devotees reach back the Lion Gate or ‘ Simhadwara’, the Main Gate of Temple, in late afternoon and deities remain seated on their chariots.
On the next day known as ‘Bada Ekadasi’ or on the Eleventh Day of Waxing Phase of Moon, the Three Deities dress up in costumes of glittering gold are worshipped by devotees. On the 12th Day of Hindu Lunar Calendar or on ‘ Dwadasi’ Day the Three Deities are taken back to their original places of Jewelled Platform or ‘Ratna Simhasanas’ in Procession or’ in ‘Pahandi’ Style. The Festival of Chariots comes to a grand finale when the Deities occupy their Holy Seats in Sanctum Sanctorum.