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What is the History of Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra

Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra

The Puri Jagannath temple is famous worldwide and located in the Indian state of Orissa, in Puri (a sea-side tourist destination too). The Jagannath temple at Puri, houses the idols of three deities, Lord Jagannath, who is Lord Vishnu in His 8th avatar of Lord Sri Krishna, the Lord’s elder brother Lord Balabhadra(or Baladeva) and the Lord’s younger sister Devi Subhadra. The Puri Jagannath temple is one of the ‘Char Dhams’, which is desired to be visited by most Hindus. It is also one of the most visited and revered among temples in India. Unlike deity idols in other temples of India, the triad at Lord Jagannath Puri temple is made of wood.The Puri Jagannath temple is the only temple which houses the three siblings

The festival of the Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra is an annual event, which is considered the oldest Rath Yatra or Chariot procession festival in the world. The Jagannath Rath Yatra takes place in Shukla PakshaDwitiya in Ashadha month, i.e. the 2nd day of the waxing Moon in the Hindu month of Ashadha. The Jagannath Rath Yatra comprises of the deity idols of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra along with Sudarshan(Lord Vishnu’s/Lord Sri Krishna’s Sudarshan Chakra) are taken out of the main temple and placed in Rathas/Chariots and taken in a procession to visit the Gundicha Temple  or Gundicha Ghar, but by first visiting Mausi Maa Temple on the way. Mausi Maa means maternal aunt. After the deity idols are placed in their individual Rathas, they are pulled manually by the mammoth crowd which gather to be part of the festival.

At Gundicha Temple the deity idols are traditionally and ritualistically installed where they stay for nine days.Post that Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra are brought back in three separate, beautifully decorated wooden Rathas/Chariots to the main temple in a mammoth procession, where devotees arrive in lakhs to experience and try to get a chance to pull Rathas. This return journey of the Triad is known as Bahuda Yatra. It is considered to be a good fortune if one gets the chance to pull the Ratha. It is a sight to behold a sea of people and the three Rathas proceeding slowly back to the main Jagannath temple. The deities are installed back in the main shrine.

History of Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra

The Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra history is intriguing and there are various versions of it.

The popular version is that after Sri Krishna left His mortal body, the Lord’s elder brother Lord Balabhadra was so grief stricken that He carried the half cremated body of Lord Shri Krishna to Dwarka sea wanting to down Himself along with the body of the Lord. Just when the Lord’s body was immersed in Dwarka, simultaneously King Indrayumna dreamt that the Lord’s body had floated in his kingdom, which was in the state of Orissa, at Puri, as a log of wood with special markings on it and washed ashore. A hymn in the Rig Veda refer to a wooden log, which is termed ‘Daru’ afloat as ‘apurusham’, in the ocean.

The other version is again about King Indrayumna who was an overbearing and pompous King and wanted to steal the heart of Lord Sri Krishna after His mortal body was cremated  and immersed in the sea at Dwarka and had reappeared as an idol to the tribes living in an area of his kingdom. But his intention failed as the idol disappeared. Realizing his mistake the King pleaded with the Lord to forgive and pardon him for his sinful intentions and consecrated the Lord in a different form.

The later part of both the versions converge at the point. King Indrayumna after finding the log, decided to make a temple to install the Divine log. It is believed that Lord Vishwakarma, the Divine architect, carpenter, appeared as an old man offering to carve the Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra idols. However, there was a condition which He put forward, which was that He would be doing the work behind closed doors, alone and no one should interrupt Him. So Lord Vishwakarma started worked for days without coming out of the place He used as His workshop. He did not eat or drink anything for weeks. This became a matter of concern for King Indrayumna who got impatient and apprehensive and one day he flung open the doors of the workshop. But, Lord Vishwakarma had disappeared. What was left behind was three unfinished deity idols which did not have hands or legs. This is the reason that the idols of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra are the way they are till date.

The crafting of the idols of the Puri Jagannath temple has a different version which specifies that Lord Vishnu had entrusted the job of crafting the idols at the Puri Jagannath temple to Lord Vishwakarma who put forward the condition of working in solitary confinement without being disturbed till the idols are done. And when Lord Vishwakarma worked in solitary space carving the idols and did not surface for weeks, Lord Vishnu got impatient and opened the door to see unfinished deity idols and Lord Vishwakarma was nowhere to be seen, as that was part of the conditions laid by Lord Vishwakarma.

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The festival of Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra is celebrated with devotion and fervour every year. There are many mystical nuances which have many explanations. Whatever be the truth, it is a fact that Lord Jagannath is worshipped as the ‘master of the universe’ and it is said that the wishes of devotees are fulfilled by grace of Lord Vishnu.

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