Ratha Yatra is a big Hindu festival and is held every year in the famous Jagannatha temple in Puri. The day of Ratha Yatra is decided according to the Hindu lunar calendar and is set in Dwitiya Tithi during the month of Shukla Paksha of Ashada. Currently falls in the month of June or July in the Gregorian calendar.
Lord Jagannatha is worshipped mainly in the city of Puri in the famous Jagannatha Temple. Lord Jagannatha is considered a incarnation of Lord Vishnu and also revered by the followers of Vaishnavism. Jagannatha literally means Lord of the Universe. The Jagannatha Temple is one of four Hindu pilgrimage centers known as Char Dham pilgrimages that should visit in your lifespan. Lord Jagannatha is revered with his brother Balabhadra and his sister Devi Subhadra.
Ratha Yatra commemorates Lord Jagannatha’s annual visit to the Gundicha Mata Temple. It is said that to honor the devotion of Queen Gundicha, wife of the legendary King Indradyumna who built the Puri Jagannatha Temple, Lord Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra leave their usual residence in the main temple and spend a few days in this temple built by Gundicha in his Honour.
One day before Ratha Yatra, the temple of Gundicha is cleansed by the devotees of Lord Jagannatha. The cleaning ritual of Gundicha Temple is known as Gundicha Marjana and is celebrated the day before Ratha Yatra.
The fourth day after Ratha Yatra is celebrated as Hera Panchami when the goddess Lakshmi, the wife of Lord Jagannatha, visits the temple of Gundicha in search of Lord Jagannatha. Hera Panchami should not be confused with Panchami Tithi, since Hera Panchami is celebrated on the fourth day after Ratha Yatra and is usually observed at Shashthi Tithi.
After resting for eight days in Gundicha Temple, Lord Jagannatha returns to his main home. This day is known as the Bahuda Yatra or Return Yatra and is observed on the eighth day after Ratha Yatra at Dashami Tithi. During Bahuda Yatra Lord made a brief stop at the Mausi Maa temple, dedicated to the goddess Ardhashini.
It should be noted that Lord Jagannatha returns to his main abode just before Devshayani Ekadashi when Lord Jagannatha falls asleep for four months. Ratha Yatra is also known as Puri Car Festival among foreign pilgrims.
It should be noted that Ratha Yatra rituals begin well before Ratha Yatra Day. About 18 days before Ratha Yatra Lord Jagannatha, his brother Balabhadra and his sister Devi Subhadra receive a famous ceremonial bath known as Snana Yatra. The day of Snana Yatra is observed in Purnima Tithi in the month of Jyeshtha, popularly known as Jyestha Purnima.