The Rath (meaning chariot) Yatra (meaning journey) is one of the biggest Hindu festivals in India – the Rath Yatra. Every year during the month of June and July, the festival is held in the country. The temple town of Puri is especially phenomenal in hosting the Rath Yatra. The Jagannath Temple in Puri is a prominent part of the four cardinal shrines in India associated with Lord Vishnu. Collectively they are called The Char Dham (meaning: four abodes). Rameshwaram, Kedarnath, and Dwarka being the other pilgrimage sites. Such is the prominence of Rath Yatra, that its celebrations have commenced in other parts of India and the world as well. In this article, I present before you the 8 best places to see Rath Yatra.
Jagannath Temple in Puri, in the state of Odisha, houses the trinity of deities – Mahaprabhu Jagannath (literally translating to Lord of the Universe), His elder brother Balabhadra and sister, Devi Subhadra. On an auspicious day as per the native calendar, the deities are ceremoniously brought out of the Temple Sanctum. They ride huge wooden chariots that are elaborately decorated. The carts are pulled by lakhs of devotees and they travel a distance of 3km. Once they reach the Gundicha Temple, they stay there for seven days. They travel back on the eighth day referred to as Ulto-rath (Ulto meaning reverse), halting at Mausi Maa Temple (Aunt’s residence).
About 500 years ago, a traveling Hindu saint, Shree Sarangdasji, arrived in Puri to offer prayers to Lord Jagannath. While sleeping at the temple guesthouse, he received visionary instruction to erect a temple dedicated to Lord Jagannath in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He founded the Ahmedabad Jagannath Temple, thus sanctifying two locations interconnected by the story of the Lord. About 142 years ago, one of the founder’s disciples, Shree Narsinhdasji Maharaj, began the Ahmedabad Rath Yatra. The deities on chariots, pulled by elephants and humans, replicate their own journey in Puri. It is one of the best places to see Rath Yatra.
West Bengal, India
Mahesh Rath Yatra: Held in Serampore, West Bengal, this is the second oldest chariot festival in India. Sri Chaitanya is believed to have christened Mahesh as ‘Naba Nilachal’ meaning the ‘New Puri’. Unlike the idols in Puri’s Jagannath temple which are changed every twelve years, the same idols worshipped by the founder Kamalakar Pipilai are present in the temple of Mahesh. However, two days after the Snanayatra and just two weeks before the Rathayatra, the Angaraga ceremony is held. This is a three-day ceremony where the idols are repainted using herbal pigments.
A month-long fair is held in the area. Rath Yatra in Mahijshadal and Guptipara, West Bengal are also largely popular for the traditions and fairs during the festival. In Kolkata, the greatest attraction during Rath Yatra is the ISKCON’s Rath, replicating a similar procession to that of the Puri Rath Yatra.
The practice of Ratha Yatra in Manipur was introduced in the nineteenth century. The then-king of Manipur Gambhir Singh is said to have initiated the practice of grand Rath-Yatra in the state in 1832. Also known as Kang Festival, it is one of the most popular and significant festivals for the Meitei community of Manipur. Thousands of pilgrims walk alongside the cart carrying the deities, accompanied by the music of gongs, bells, conch, and drums. One of the significant places to see Rath Yatra.
Dhamrai Jagannath Roth: This happens to be the most important event for the Hindu Community living in Bangladesh. From the unpublished documents and records, it seems that the Dhamrai Roth is about 400 years old. The journey of the Roth begins from the Madhabbari Temple to the Gope Nagar Temple, regarded to be the In-Laws house.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), known colloquially as the Hare Krishna movement, was founded in 1966 in New York. Celebrations start with Kirtan-Meditation at Tompkins Square Park, home to the famous “Hare Krishna Tree”. The deities ride along Fifth Avenue on three chariots, which are generally supplied by Abhay Charan Das in Montreal. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 was the first year without a New York Ratha Yatra parade in 45 years – instead, Lord Jagannath was driven down Fifth Avenue in a minivan. Colorful tents featuring presentations on the Bhagavad-Gita and other books of Srila Prabhupada along with stalls selling souvenirs, devotional clothes, etc make this a unique NY summer tradition.
There are more than 13 Rath Yatra festivals held across the UK, the largest street parades being in London. The first London Rath Yatra was held in 1969. The procession starts in Hyde Park and ends in Trafalgar Square. Dance, drama, religious discourse, and sanctified vegetarian feast are the highlights of the day-long festivity
The members of the ISKCON Moscow community dance and chant the names of Krishna in the famous Red Square as the Lord travels in a decorated chariot. His chariot is even allotted an official license by Moscow Traffic authorities. With the rapid expansion of this organization, Chariots have now become a common sight in Kolkata, Mumbai, Melbourne, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and many other cities across the globe.
The Chaka-Akha Dera ritual marks the ceremonious beginning of the construction of the chariots. Two giant wheels and the axle of the chariots are fixed on this day. After three weeks, on the day of Snan Yatra (Bathing Festival), the deities are brought to the Snan-Bedi (platform) and ceremoniously bathed and decorated for a public audience with devotees.
Curiously, the Gods are believed to fall ill after the elaborate bath. They stay in isolation in the infirmary (Anasara-Griha) under the care of the Raj-Vaidya (the royal doctor). During this while, three paintings of the Gods are worshipped in the sanctum of the main temple. It is believed that Lord Jagannath manifests in the form of Lord Alarnath during illness in Puri. Hence, devotees make a beeline to the Alarnath temple at Brahmagiri, around 23 km from Puri town. The tradition culminates into the biggest religious procession in the world – the annual Rath-Yatra in Puri. Hotels and lodges run packed to capacity during the day. In fact, hotels never allow reservations for a single day during the festival. There are also instances of devotees having reserved hotel rooms for as many as ten years in advance.
Observing Rath Yatra Virtually
Every year, over a million people from India and abroad converge at Puri to take part in the festival. In view of the Covid-19 outbreak, the local administration has been strictly against public gatherings in Puri. Hence, the internet emerged as one of the most prominent places to see Rath Yatra in 2020. With curfew being imposed and public participation banned, only a limited number of servitors were allowed to engage in pulling the chariots. The rest soaked in religious fervor and the spirit of festivity through the virtual medium. ISKCON organized the world’s first digital Rath Yatra, spanning six continents. The whole ceremony was live-streamed from the major temple premises through their Facebook and Youtube channels.
The Rath Yatra is a magnificent festival that is now popular in nations across the globe. Such epic and grandiose the whole affair is, that the British coined the term “Juggernaut”. The splendor and opulence of the chariot festival make this a paramount event, which is religious and social in equal measure. For the spiritually inclined, the Lord is never far from the pilgrim. Wherever there is devotion, one will surely find a place to see Rath Yatra.
An honest SCORPIO who is crazy about movies, and overly passionate about travel.
Believes in immortalizing the moment, either by way of the photograph or literal documentation of the journey.