What is the Rath Yatra Hindu Festival?

– Written by Victoria Philpott

Rath Yatra is celebrated by Hindus around the world every year. On 10th July 2013 the biggest celebration begins in Puri, India. Also known as Ratha Yatra, Ratha-Yatra, Rathyatra and the Chariot Festival, the carnival commemorates their deity Lord Jagannath’s yearly visit to Gundicha Temple along the Bada Danda Road with his elder brother Lord Balarama, and their sister Subhadra.

What happens?

Every year new temple-like chariots, known as raths, are built and paraded along the streets to precise specifications. The making of these raths is an epic affair with the best artists and tailors coming together to create the best looking chariots possible.

The deity idols, made from wood are placed on top. It’s the only chance non-Hindus get to see these idols as the rest of the year they’re kept in the Hindu-only temples.

Hindu devotees worldwide visit Puri in the hope of pulling the esteemed Jagannatha, Balarama and Subhadra chariots. The huge crowds and 14-metre chariots make it a life-risking job.

Dedicated Hindus who’ve made the pilgrimage sing songs, play instruments and celebrate together. The Hindu Festival is shown on all the major TV Indian channels.

On the return trip from the Gundicha Temple the commemorative chariots stop by the Mausi Maa Temple for 7 days for an offering of Poda Pitha – a special pancake, believed to be Lord Jagannath’s favourite.

Why?

The festival is a sacred and special part of Hindu worship – like Passover for Jews, Easter for Christians and Ramadan for Muslims. Yatra means travel or journey and Jagannath is the Lord of Puri, Orissa, where the biggest version of Rath Yatra takes place.

Rath Yatra is the grandest festival in the Hindu calendar. It celebrates the supreme divinity’s arrival to free humanity and relieve them from their sufferings.

Seeing Lord Jaggannatha at the event is considered a huge privilege and sanction. Even if you just touch the chariot, it’s believed any sins are instantly forgiven and you are restored as a virtuous person.

In the Kathopanishada (the Hindu Book of Wisdom) the sanctity of the chariot is described like this…

“The body is the Chariot and the soul is the deity installed in the chariot. The wisdom acts as the charioteer to control the mind and thoughts.”

And the Skanda Purana (one of 18 Hindu texts, like the Bible or Quaran) explains the reasons for the pilgrimage like this…

“Those who are fortunate to see the deities of the Srimandira in the Gundicha Temple, the final destination of the procession of the chariots, derive the benefits of a thousand horse sacrifices, an immensely pious deed.”

Around the world

It’s not just the Hindu religion that celebrates. Rath Yatra unites all ages and backgrounds in worship and is one of the biggest festivals in the world. And it’s not just in India either – London, Toronto and Birmingham have all had Rath Yatra celebrations in 2011.

If you’re going this year or fancy seeing where it all happens without the crowds we’ve got plenty of hostels in India. Or you can join the celebrations in Birmingham, Toronto or London.

Thanks to somewhereintheworldtoday, graymalkn, Orbisnonsuficit, ToastyKen and Garryknight for the excellent images from Flikr!

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