Puri Rath Yatra 2016
One of the most awaited Hindu festivals in the country, the Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath, along with Subadhra and Balabhadra, in the temple town of Puri is set to commence on 6 July and the Bahuda Jatra or the return of the deities in their chariots, is to be held on 14 July this year. Elaborate arrangements are made each year as a sea of devotees throng the town of Puri to catch a glimpse of their favorite deities out in the open. The festival is characterized by a number of significant rituals both during the procession and during the deity’s stay at a nearby temple.
The Chariot Festival
The Rath Yatra, or Chariot Festival of Lord Jagannath in Puri, is one of the oldest temple festivals in the country. It finds mention in ancient Hindu texts, including the Skanda Purana and Brahma Purana. The festival dates back to the 10th century. On the Shukla Paksha Dwitiya (the second day of the waxing moon) in Ashada month (usually early July), the idols of the three main deities of the temple in Puri – Jagannath, Subadhra and Balabhadra – are towed in huge chariots and taken to the Gundicha Temple near Balagandi Chakra. There, they are kept and worshipped for nine days and then again returned to their temple in a chariot procession. The festival is believed to signify the annual trip of Lord Krishna (as Jagannath), his sister (Subadhra), and brother (Balabadhra) to their maternal aunt’s home.
The three stately chariots (about 45 feet in height) are decorated in rich colours and bright flowers and are pulled by thousands of devotees through the streets of Puri, covering a distance of about 2 kilometres to the Gundicha Temple. Millions throng the streets to witness this ritual and to find an opportunity to pull the sacred chariots. Adding to the crowds are non-Hindus who grab the only annual chance to see the deities since they are not ordinarily allowed entry into Puri Jagannath Temple.
Other Rath Yatras
If you can’t make it to Puri this year, here are four other places from where you can participate in the Rath Yatra festival of Lord Jagannath. Though held on a much smaller scale, these four places hold a similar chariot festival celebration. While none of these match the vibrancy and effervescence of Puri, they are good places to visit if you cannot make it to Puri.
Serampore, near Kolkata, hosts the second largest Rath Yatra in India. The Jagannath Temple of Mahesh in Serampore was constructed by the sage Drubananda Brahmachari working on a divine injunction. The temple’s deities are taken in a chariot procession to Serampore Mahesh Gundicha Bari, similar to the “yatra” in Puri. A nine-day fair is held during the festival.
The ISKCON temple of Ujjain also holds the Rath Yatra festival with much pomp and celebration. The holy chariots are pulled through the main thoroughfares of the city in a great procession.
The Rath Yatra conducted by the ISKCON Chandigarh Temple (Sector 36) is also a beautiful one.
The first Rath Yatra outside the country was organized by the founder of ISKCON, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in San Francisco in 1967. Since then, the festival has been held in many major cities abroad including New York, London, Paris, Rome and Dublin. Hindus from these places join in and take the deities on a celebratory procession through these cities.
In 2015, about one and half million devotees and pilgrims attended the Nabakalebara Rath Yatra in Puri. The occasion was a special one since the wooden idols of the deities had been changed after a gap of about 19 years. The number of pilgrims expected to attend the Rath Yatra festival in Puri is likely to be less than that in 2015 yet enough to test the capabilities of the state administration.
To manage the heavy rush of devotees heading to Puri to participate in the Rath Yatra festival, the East Coast Railway (ECoR) has decided to run about 148 special trains. Most of these will bring in passengers from Hyderabad, Jagdalpur, Sambalpur, Bhadrak and Junagarh by 5 July and commence the return journey by 16 July after the nine-day-long festival.
As part of the security arrangements for the Rath Yatra festival in Puri, the Odisha State Armed Police (OSAP) has decided to deploy 131 platoons of security personnel. This includes over 2,000 home guards for general security and crowd management, 61 traffic constables and 25 traffic havildars for traffic management, 82 inspectors, 542 SI (sub-inspectors) and 388 constables. They will be supervised by 52 DSP and assistant commandant level officers, 26 ASP and deputy commandant level officers and led by 16 SP and commandant level officers. Special CCTV cameras are being installed at the railway station and other parts of the city to monitor the security arrangements.