A Ratha-Yatra or Roth Jatra or Chariot Festival is a Hindu festival that involves transporting deities on a chariot (called a ratha or roth).1 Accidents involving people being crushed under the wheels of the chariot have occurred,2 and a figurative reference to a chariot containing Lord Jagannath has resulted in the English word juggernaut to refer to an unstoppable force.1
"Ratha" (ରଥ) in Oriya means chariot and "yatra" (ଯାତ୍ରା) means journey. The festival thus refers to the annual journey of the divinity in the form of idols to their aunt's (ମାଉସୀ) house. "Aunt" here refers to the feminine creative aspect of divinity.
- Ratha-Yatra (Puri), at Puri in the state of Orissa, India. The oldest, biggest and most visited Rath Yatra in the world
- Dhamrai Jagannath Roth, at Dhamrai in Bangladesh, the most famous Rath Yatra in Bangladesh
- Rathayatra of Mahesh, at Mahesh in West Bengal
- Radha Rani Rath Yatra, held at the Radha Madhav Dham temple near Austin, Texas, U.S.A.
- Rajbalhat Ratha Yatra, West Bengal, India.2
- People of Bastar region observe Ratha yatra during Dussehara.3
The Jagannath triad are usually worshiped in the sanctum of the temple at Puri, but once during the month of Asadha (Rainy Season of Orissa, usually falling in month of June or July), they are brought out onto the Bada Danda (main street of Puri) and travel (3 km) to the Shri Gundicha Temple, in huge chariots (ratha), allowing the public to have darśana (Holy view). This festival is known as Rath Yatra, meaning the journey (yatra) of the chariots (ratha). The Rathas are huge wheeled wooden structures, which are built anew every year and are pulled by the devotees. The chariot for Jagannath is approximately 45 feet high and 35 feet square and takes about 2 months to construct 5. The artists and painters of Puri decorate the cars and paint flower petals and other designs on the wheels, the wood-carved charioteer and horses, and the inverted lotuses on the wall behind the throne 6. The huge chariots of Jagannath pulled during Rath Yatra is the etymological origin of the English word Juggernaut.7 The Ratha-Yatra is also termed as the Shri Gundicha yatra.
The most significant ritual associated with the Ratha-Yatra is the chhera pahara." During the festival, the Gajapati King wears the outfit of a sweeper and sweeps all around the deities and chariots in the Chera Pahara (sweeping with water) ritual. The Gajapati King cleanses the road before the chariots with a gold-handled broom and sprinkles sandalwood water and powder with utmost devotion. As per the custom, although the Gajapati King has been considered the most exalted person in the Kalingan kingdom, he still renders the menial service to Jagannath. This ritual signified that under the lordship of Jagannath, there is no distinction between the powerful sovereign Gajapati King and the most humble devotee.8
Chera pahara is held on two days, on the first day of the Ratha Yatra, when the deities are taken to garden house at Mausi Maa Temple and again on the last day of the festival, when the deities are ceremoniously brought back to the Shri Mandir.
As per another ritual, when the deities are taken out from the Shri Mandir to the Chariots in Pahandi vijay, disgruntled devotees hold a right to offer kicks, slaps and the derogatory remarks to the images, and Jagannath behaves like a commoner.
In the Ratha Yatra, the three deities are taken from the Jagannath Temple in the chariots to the Gundicha Temple, where they stay for seven days. Thereafter, the deities again ride the chariots back to Shri Mandir in bahuda yatra. On the way back, the three chariots halt at the Mausi Maa Temple and the deities are offered Poda Pitha, a kind of baked cake which are generally consumed by the poor sections only.
The observance of the Rath Yatra of Jagannath dates back to the period of the Puranas. Vivid descriptions of this festival are found in Brahma Purana, Padma Purana, and Skanda Purana. Kapila Samhita also refers to Rath Yatra. In Moghul period also, King Ramsingh of Jaipur, Rajasthan has been described as organizing the Rath Yatra in the 18th Century. In Orissa, Kings of Mayurbhanj and Parlakhemundi were organizing the Rath Yatra, though the most grand festival in terms of scale and popularity takes place at Puri.
Moreover, Starza9 notes that the ruling Ganga dynasty instituted the Rath Yatra at the completion of the great temple around 1150 AD. This festival was one of those Hindu festivals that was reported to the Western world very early. Friar Odoric of Pordenone visited India in 1316-1318, some 20 years after Marco Polo had dictated the account of his travels while in a Genovese prison.10 In his own account of 1321, Odoric reported how the people put the "idols" on chariots, and the King and Queen and all the people drew them from the "church" with song and music.11 12
The Ratha Yatra festival has become a common sight in most major cities of the world since 1968 through the ISKCON Hare Krishna movement. Its leader A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada successfully transplanted the festival which now happens on an annual basis in places all over the world in over 100 cities including Dublin, Belfast, Birmingham, London, Bath, Budapest, Melbourne, Montreal, Paris, New York, Singapore, Toronto, Antwerp, Kuala Lumpur, Los Angeles (celebrated in coastal Venice, CA),13 Mexico,14 and others.
Dhamrai Jagannath Roth is a chariot temple, a Roth, dedicated to the Hindu God Jagannath located in Dhamrai, Bangladesh. The annual Jagannath Roth Jatra is a famous Hindu festival attracting thousands of people. The Roth Jatra in Dhamrai is one of the most important events for the Hindu community of Bangladesh.15 The original historical Roth was burnt down by the Pakistan Army in 1971 1 The Roth has since been rebuilt with Indian assistance.
The Rathajatra of Mahesh is the second oldest chariot festival in India (after Rath Yatra at Puri) and oldest in Bengal,16 having been celebrated since 1397.17 It is a week-long festival held in Mahesh in Hooghly district of West Bengal and a grand fair is held at that time. People throng to have a share in pulling the long ropes (Roshi) attached to the chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balarama and Subhadra on the journey from the temple to Serampur Gundicha Bari and back.
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- Paresh Chandra Mandal. "Rathayatra". In Sirajul Islam. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
- Rangan Dutta (October 10, 2012). "Rajbalhat Ratha Yatra, Jangipara, Hooghly".
- S Banerjee, Partha (2008). "Dussehra in Bastar -- a riot of colours - Economic Times". indiatimes.com. Retrieved 9 January 2013. "The Bastar royal family figures prominently in the script and the props include a huge chariot that is first built, then ritually 'stolen', and then again recovered and pulled ceremonially through the streets of Jagdalpur"
- "Tribals celebrate unique Dussehra in Bastar - Oneindia News". news.oneindia.in. 2008. Retrieved 9 January 2013. "The another attraction of this 'tribal Dusshra', is a double- decked Rath (Chariot) with eight wheels and weighing about 30 tonnes."
- Starza 1993, p. 16.
- Das 1982, p. 40.
- "Juggernaut-Definition and Meaning". Merriam Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
- Karan, Jajati (4 July 2008). "Lord Jagannath yatra to begin soon". IBN Live. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
- Starza 1993, p. 133.
- Mitter 1977, p. 10.
- Starza 1993, p. 129.
- Das 1982, p. 48.
- Festival of India
- "Rathajatra festival today". The New Nation, Dhaka – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). 24 June 2009. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
- "Rathayatra celebrated in West Bengal". The Hindu. 4 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-18.
- "Bengal celebrates Rathayatra festival". Monsters and Critics. 16 July 2007. Retrieved 2008-10-18.
- J. P. Das (1982). Puri Paintings: the Chitrakara and his Work. New Delhi: Arnold Heinemann.
- P. Mitter (1977). Much Maligned Monsters: A History of European Reactions to Indian Art. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226532394.
- O. M. Starza (1993). The Jagannatha Temple at Puri: Its Architecture, Art, and Cult. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-09673-8. Retrieved 15 December 2012.