The annual Chariot Festival or Car Festival also known as Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra is held every year around June-July at Puri, Odisha located on the eastern coast of India.
The festival celebrates Lord Jagannath’s yearly visit to Gundicha mata’s Temple situated 2 km far via aunt’s home. The three deities of temple are taken out in parade to Gundicha Temple for nine days and it’s the return journey of the deities to the main temple which is known as Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra or “Chariot Journey”.
The presiding deities of the Jagannath Temple, Puri’s main temple, Lord Jagannath, Lord Balbhadra and Goddess Subhadra, with the celestial wheel (Sudarshan Chakra) are pulled over in three richly decorated chariots which resemble the temple structures. A huge crowd of more than 1 million people was seen this year in Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra.
Since Non-Hindus and foreigners are not allowed to enter the temple and worship the Lord, this is the only day when they can get their glimpse of the deities. The popular belief is that pulling the Lord’s chariot with ropes during this annual Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra is a pious deed and even a glimpse of Lord Jagannath on the chariot is considered to be very auspicious. The huge crowd of people accompanying the chariots play devotional songs with drums, tambourines and trumpets.
The chariots are around 45 feet or 14 meters in height with 12-16 wheels of 7 feet diameter and are newly constructed every year with wood of specified trees like Phassi, Dhausa. Lord Jagannath’s Chariot is called Nandighosh having red-yellow cloth canopy. Since Lord Jagannath is identified as re-incarnation of Lord Krishna, who is also known as Pitambara (Yellow Clothed), the chariot is decorated with red-yellow stripes.
The Chariot of Lord Balarama (Taldhwaja) has the Palm Tree on its flag with 14 wheels and covered with red and blue cloth. The Chariot of Goddess Subhadra (Dwarpadalana), literally “trampler of pride,” has 12 wheels with the covering of red and black cloth – black being traditionally associated with Shakti and the Mother Goddess.
Each of the chariots is attached to different colored four horses. White horses are seen for Balarama, dark horses for Jagannath, and red horses for Subhadra.
Once the return journey of 2 km and 5-6 hours is over and the chariots of the deities return to the main temple from the Gundicha temple, the deities are decorated in gold ornaments and worshipped on the chariots. According to the ancient custom this event was first started by King Kapilendra Deb in 1460, when after returning victorious from war he donated gold to Lord Jagannath.
How To Reach: Nearest railway station is Puri which is well-connected with major cities of India including Delhi & Kolkata by train. Bhubaneswar, the state capital of Odisha is about 50 kms or 1 hour drive from Puri. Bhubaneswar is well-connected by domestic flights with big cities of India.
Accommodation: Puri is a small city which has the peak touristy season only during Rath Yatra. During the annual Chariot Festival, prices go insanely high even for budget accommodations. Most of the hotels are located either nearby main temple on Grand Road or opposite the famous golden sands Puri Beach. Advance reservation is recommended before the annual chariot festival.
Tourist Attractions: Beside the annual Chariot Festival which is held around June-July, Puri is famous for golden sands beach and other temples. Also short day tours can be arranged for Konark Sun Temple, Chilka Wildlife Sanctuary for Indian Dolphins, Khandagiri-Udayagiri Caves and local artist town of Peepli famous for hand-made miniature paintings and applique work.
Glimpses of Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra 2014