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Rath Yatra

In what is one of the grandest fairs in the entire world, the presiding deity of the state of Orissa, Lord Jagannath visits His aunt's house “The Mausi Maa temple” once every year. This occasion that we know as "the Rath Yatra" turns the small town of Puri in the eastern parts of the country on the shore of Bay of Bengal into a cauldron of activity making it lively with thronging multitude of people from across the world.

Amidst the resounding clash of cymbals, and the tumultuous thundering of drums, the triad of Lord Jagannath, His brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra leave their abode, the Jagannath temple, in journey to the Gundicha Mandir, three kilometers away from Jagannath temple towards north. Millions of devotees flock to the town to watch the trinity ride in their elaborate chariots through the streets of Puri .A spiritual ambience pervades the whole scene as bells chime; conch shells blow and the saffron robed sadhus dance with abandon. It is fascinating to watch the delirious masses paying homage to the Lord as the chariots move on almost as if propelled by a divine force.

The Rituals

The festival of Rath Yatra takes place on the Asadha Shukla Dwitiya, the second day in the bright fortnight of the first monsoon month of the Indian seasonal calendar. It is typically in late June in normal years but every few years, after adjustment of the solar and lunar calendars, with a double Baisakha, this occurs in July. The presiding deities of the temple Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra, in a unique reversal of roles of the seeker and the sought, set out from within the sanctum of the temple to mingle with millions of their devotees.

Pahandi: (Steppingout of Temple precincts)

Pahandi:an important ritual of Rath YatraThe journey of the deities to the world outside, starts with an elaborate royal ritual called Pahandi – where in the Lord is dragged in rhythmic movement to the accompaniment of several devotees beating the ghanta, kahali and telingi baja (musical instruments meant to be played in the temples). The blowing of kahali, the clang of the ghanta, and the beating of the telingi baja in a unique rhythmic movement slowly rising to a crescendo herald the beginning of their movement.

As Lord Jagannatha of Puri and Lord Balabhadra are quite heavy, a wooden cross is fixed to their backs and thick silken ropes are tied round their heads and waists for their ceremonial procession - a ritual known as Senapata lagi. The deities during the anasara period are actually placed in the audience hall – Jagamohana and not in the sanctum – or deul on the elevated platform, their normal seat. From there the deities are moved first on to the sata pahacha or seven steps, outside the northern door of the natamandapa or the dancing hall. During the outward movement from the temple to the chariots, the procession of the deities is in a row and is known as dhadi pahandi or a group movement. All the deities move simultaneously. 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.

The two brothers, Balabhadra and Jagannatha are decorated with large, elaborate floral decorations called tahia. These are like huge crowns fixed at the back of their heads. These are made of a variety of white, orange and lotus flowers, leaves and pieces of cork fixed to a semi – circular heart shaped bamboo frame. The two brothers decorated with the tahias are carried forward in a slow, swaying movement. As the deities step out of the main entrance of the temple, the Sinhadwara – Lion’s Gate, the teeming devotees, bhaktas go wild with ecstasy, chanting the name of the Lord in a loud chorus.