The festival of Rath Yatra is dedicated to Lord Jagannath. It is held annually at Puri in Odisha. It is the oldest Ratha Yatra whose descriptions can be found in Brahma Purana, Padma Purana, Skanda Purana and Kapila Samhita. Rath Yatra is celebrated on Ashadha Shukla Paksha Dwitiya.The festival commemorates Jagannath's annual visit to Gundicha Temple via Mausi Maa Temple near Balagandi Chaka, Puri.
Significance and Legend:
"Jagannath" is a Sanskrit word which translates as " Lord of the Universe." Lord Jagannatha is worshipped at the Jagannath Temple of Puri. The idols of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balaram, and Subhadra, are made of wood. During the Rath Yatra celebration Lord Jagannath, Lord Balarama and Subhadra are transported to the Gundicha Temple in three massive wooden chariots pulled by devotees. Several stories on the origin of the Jagannath Ratha Yatra Celebration are as follows:
Kansa invited Krishna and Balaram to Mathura with the intention of killing Them. Lord Krishna and Balaram proceed to Mathura in a chariot. The day of departure of Lord Krishna and Lord Balaram to Mathura is celebrated as Ratha Yatra Festival.
On this day Lord Krishna defeated Kansa and appeared in Mathura in a chariot with Balaram.
Devotees in Dwarka celebrated the day when Lord Krishna took Balaram, and Subhadra for a ride on a Ratha around the beautiful Dwarka city.
Once in Dwarka, Lord Krishna's eight queens requested mother Rohini to narrate the transcendental pastimes of Lord Krishna with Gopis in Vraja. Rohini sent Subhadra to guard the Palace Doorway. When Lord Krishna and Balaram arrived there, Subhadra stood between the two. Just then Sage Narada appeared. Seeing the siblings standing together, Narada humbly prayed, "May the Three of you grant darshan in this manner forever." Lord Krishna granted the boon. And they reside in the Jagannath Temple in Puri.
During the cremation of Lord Krishna in Dwarka, Balaram dashed into the ocean with Lord Krishna's partially cremated body. Subhadra too followed him. At the same time, King Indradyumna of Puri had a dream that the Lord's body would float up to the shores of Puri. He should build a temple in the city and consecrate the wooden idols of Lord Krishna, Balaram, and Subhadra. The bones of Lord Krishna's body should be placed in the hollow back of the idol. Next day, he found the splinters of bone and took them. Vishwakarma, the architect of the gods carved the idols. King Indradyumna consecrated the idols and installed them in the temple. Every year a grand procession is carried out with the idols of Lord Krishna, Balaram, and Subhadra in three gigantic Chariots.
The idols are changed every twelve years. The festival begins with the invoking ceremony. Chariot pulling begins in the late afternoon when the chariots of Lord Jagannath, Balaram, and Subhadra start rolling. Nandighosa, the chariot of Lord Jagannath has 18 wheels and is 23 cubits high; the chariot of Lord Balarama, Taladhvaja has 16 wheels and is 22 cubits high; and the chariot of Subhadra, Devadalana, has 14 wheels and is 21 cubits high. The wooden idols of the deities are religiously replaced by new ones every after 12 years. After a nine-day sojourn of the deities amidst festivities, the three return to the city temple of Lord Jagannath.
Celebrations and Rituals:
During Ratha Yatra, the deities of Jagannath, Balaram, and Subhadra are taken out in a procession to Gundicha Temple. They remain there for nine days. The return journey of Lord Jagannath is known as Bahuda Jatra. Three richly decorated chariots are pulled through the streets of Puri called Badadanda. Thus, the annual journey of deities to Gundicha Temple commemorates. Pulling the chariots is considered as an auspicious deed. The huge processions accompanying the chariots play devotional songs with drums, tambourines, trumpets.