Rath Jatra Rituals

By: Shibashish Mahapatra
Rath Jatra Rituals.
Odisha is an Indian state located on the eastern side of India. It is the 8th largest state by area and 11th largest state by population. It has the third largest population of Scheduled Tribe. It is home to varying topography from the 55 km long dam to the second largest mangrove ecosystem. It has many tourist attractions outside of which the Jagannath Temple in Puri is one of the “Char Dham” pilgrimage sites for Hindus. This city celebrates twenty-four festivals a year and out of that thirteen are major ones. The most important of these festivals is the “Ratha Jatra” which falls on June-July.
Ratha Jatra is the most important festival of Odisha and Puri. This is the only festival in the world where the deities took out from the temple to their birth place for nine days. The deities i.e. ”Lord Balabhadra”, ”Lord Subhadra”,”Lord Jagannath” and “Lord Sudarshan” are taken out from the temple to their birth place i.e. “Gundicha Temple” in a biggest procession with chariot and this procession is called as “Ratha Jatra”. This annual travel of the deities is followed by many rituals. Three different chariots are made each year for this grand celebration.
The Ratha Jatra festival starts with the rituals “Ratha Katha Anukula”. This is the initiation ceremony of the chariot wheels. This day falls in Sri Panchami. This day three logs of Dhaura wood are kept in the corner of Ratha Khala (the place where the chariot construction happens). The servitors get the “Angya Mala”(permission from the lords in form of garlands) and the rituals begin. The carpenters create three different chariots in a traditional way. 
The third day of Sukla Paksha Vaisakh is called “Akshaya Tritiya”. This is the day when the construction of chariots begins. Generally, this day is treated as the beginning of the chariot festival. For the carpenters, it generally takes forty-four days to complete the work. Besides this, this day is treated as an auspicious day for Odias. The beginning of farming also starts on this day.
Deba Snana Purnima falls on the full moon day in the Hindu month of Jyeshta. On this day the deities are taken to the “Snana Bedi” (the particular place where the annual bathing rituals happen) from the “Garbha Griha” (sanctum sanctorum) in a grand procession. Tulsi is applied to their bodies before taking them to a bath. They take baths with hundreds and eight pitchers of herbal and aromatic water with sandalwood to get rid of the summer heat. For this particular ritual, the water is taken out from the “Golden well”. The same evening elephant attire is put on their bodies and this is called “Gajanana Besha”.
After the lavish bath, they fall sick and are taken to a treatment room. The process of treatment by the “Raj Baidya” (Chief Doctor) is called the “Anasara Niti” and the treatment room is called “Anasara Gruha”. During this period, the deities cannot be seen by devotees. They take fifteen days for their recovery. They are treated with herbs, flowers and extracts from different roots. The “Bada Odia Matha” of Puri provides the “Phuluri Oil” (mixed of oil and extracts of Flowers, Herbs and Roots) which is applied to their bodies.
After the treatment and their rest period on the new moon day of “Asadha” they come out from the treatment room to give darshan to their devotees. The main purpose is the renovation of their bodies. During these fifteen days, their bodies are fully painted except for their eyes. During this ritual, their eyes are painted by their respected Pujaris. After this repainting they get back youthful, fresh look and hence this ritual is called “Naba Jaubana Besha”. Now they are ready for “Ratha Jatra”.

The main attraction of these rituals is “Ratha Jatra”. This falls on the “Asadha Shukla Dashami”. On this day, the deities are taken out from the temple to their respective chariots by a procession. The “Gajapati Maharaj” wears an outfit of sweeper and sweeps all around the chariot. After this, the chariots are taken to the “Gundicha Temple” the birthplace of God, which is at a distance of three kilometres. More than one million people join every year to experience this celebration. The chariot of lord “Jagannath” is called “Nandighosh” measuring 44.2 feet with 16 wheels. “Taladhwja” is a chariot used for “Balabhadra” measuring 43.3 feet with 14 wheels. Devi “Subhadra” uses the “Darppadalana” which has a height of 42.3 feet with 12 wheels.

As lord “Jagannath” goes to his birth place with his siblings and leaves his wife in the temple, his wife goddess Lakshmii comes to the “Gundicha Temple” complaining about separation. She gets angry and breaks some wood from the “Nandighosha” chariot. This falls on the fifth day of “Ratha Jatra”. In the local “Hera” means “to see” and Panchami means “Fifth Day”. After breaking the chariot, she goes back to the main temple.
On the tenth day, the return journey from the birth place (Gundicha Temple) is called “Bahuda Jatra”. The same schedule and rules are followed like the “Ratha Jatra”. While coming back, the chariots stop for a while at the “Mausima Temple” (temple dedicated to the aunt of lord jagannath). The deities are offered with “Poda Pitha” a sweet dish made of rice, coconut etc. After this again, they start their journey to the temple. In front of the King’s place only the “Nandighosh” chariot of “Jagannath” halts where goddess “Lakshmi” is offered with a loving garland by her husband and then she returns to the main temple.
The day after the return of the deities on the 11th day of the bright fortnight in the month Asadha, the “Suna Besha” ritual is observed. This is also called “Rajadhiraja Besha” or “Raja Besha”. On this day the deities are decorated with gold jewellery. The ritual is done in the chariot itself. Here they are fitted with gold hands, arms and crowns made of solid gold. Huge quantities of gold are used during this day.
Each chariot has their own guardian, accompanying deity, gate keeper and subsidiary deities. One special ritual happens to them only and here the devotees are forbidden to take part. This ritual is called “Adharapana Niti”. Here a hundred liters of milk with cheese, sugar, banana and spices are kept in pots and brought to the chariots. The refreshment is only offered to the other deities present on the chariot. After this, the pots are broken for the spirits/souls and other invisible beings present in the chariots.
The next ritual is “Niladri Bije” where the deities are brought back to the main temple from the chariot, making this grand celebration an end. Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra get into the temple easily whereas Lord Jagannath is not allowed by Goddess Lakshmi. A fight happens between them and he is not allowed to enter. After a lot of requests, he offers “Rasagulla” (a sweet dish) and then she calms down. She accepts his apologies and allows him to enter. This day is popular in Odisha as “Rasagulla Divas” (Rasgulla Day).
This is interesting to experience such a festival where God himself acts like human beings. Starting from taking a bath and falling ill till apologising to his wife with sweets. He got an angry wife who broke his chariot and again she was waiting for him. The lord loves to wear gold and loves eating from her aunt like a normal human. Lakhs of people experience this unique tradition and culture of Odisha.

2 thoughts on “Rath Jatra Rituals”

  1. Niranjan Sahu

    ଜଗନ୍ନାଥ ମହାପ୍ରଭୁଙ୍କ ସମସ୍ତ ନୀତି କାନ୍ତି ବର୍ଣ୍ଣିତ ତଥ୍ୟ। ଏହି ସୁନ୍ଦର ଉପସ୍ଥାପନା ପାଇଁ ଲେଖକ ଙ୍କୁ ଅଶେଷ ଅଭିନନ୍ଦନ ଜଣାଉଛି ।

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