Car Festival or Chariots Festival or Ratha Yatra is a great and colorful festival of chariots, is celebrated at Asadha Sukla Dwitiya, that is to say the second day of Asadha (June-July) each year. Millions of devotees from different parts of the country and world attended the spectacle of the famous Lord Jagannath car festival in Puri, Odisha. This festival is also known as “Gundicha Yatra” and “Ghosha Yatra”. According to the tradition, Gundicha was the Rani (queen) of Raja Indradyumna, the legendary builder of the first temple. She had started this great festival. Therefore, this festival is also known after her name.
Puri Chariots Festival History:
On this day, the three deities (Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadraare) were taken from the main temple, placed in 3 magnificently decorated chariots, and begin their journey to the Sri Gundicha temple. The chariots are drawn by thousands of devotees from the Lion Gate of the Jagannath Temple to the Sri Gundicha Temple, which is located 3 kilometers away. The 3-kilometer Great Road is known as the ‘Bada Danda’, between the Jagannath temple and Sri Gundicha temple, looked like a sea of humanity as devotees pumped themselves up to see the deities in the chariots.
In the Gundicha temple, the deities stay for 7 days and make their return journey on the ninth day, known as “Bahuda Yatra”. At night, the three chariots arrive at the main temple. The next day, the three deities are dressed in scintillating dresses adorned with gold and are adored by millions of devotees. This is known as “Suna Vesha”. The next morning, the three deities return to their original temple location. Their arrival at the sanctum sanctorum marks the end of the Ratha Yatra / Car festival.
More than a religious festival, the Ratha Yatra is an eternal celebration of the divine values of love and compassion, equality and fraternity. Chariots / Cars can be pulled by the general public regardless of caste, creed, sect, religion and gender distinctions. This freedom indicates that divinity is the same for all people on earth and gives the same opportunity to all. In addition, the festival signifies the desire of benevolent deities to descend to the level of the common man to share the joys and sufferings of ordinary people and travel with them on the Great Path for a time to reach the Sri Gundicha temple. The Ratha Yatra is the grand finale of a series of festivals that take place during the summer and monsoon months.
Puri Akshay Tritiya Festival:
The Akshay Tritiya festival marks the start of the famous Lord Jagannath car festival. Akshay Tritiya festival is observed on the 3rd day of the bright half of the lunar month of “Baisakha”. On this auspicious day, the carpenters start to build the chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balabadra and Subhadra. This day also begins the famous Chandana Yatra.
Puri Snana Yatra Festival:
Snana Yatra festival is celebrated on the full moon day of the month of Jyestha (May-June). It is the festival of the divinity bath. On this day, the three deities move in colorful processions to the Snana Mandapa where the deities bathe with 108 jugs of water drawn from a well near the north Gate. At the end of Snana Yatra’s day, the deities are said to fall ill and not return to their pedestals. They are kept away from the public for a period of 15 days. This period is known as “Anabasara” or “Anasara” in the local language. After this period, people can see their deities for the first time on the eve of Rath Yatra, on this day the deities are repainted and brought to the main platform so that devotees can see and pay homage, which is called “Nava Yauvana Darshan”. This is also known as “Netrotsava”. The next day, the Ratha Yatra festival is celebrated.
Finally, the Ratha Yatra arrives on the second day of the brilliant fortnight of the month of Asadha.