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Thursday, 25 June 2009

Ratha Yatra!!!

Ratha Yatra or the Car festival of Lord Jagannath at Puri is best known in the world as the biggest festival of its kind. It is observed on the Asadha Shukla Dwitya i.e. on the second day of the bright fortnight of the month of Asadha (June-July). This annual festival at the first break of monsoon is the most ancient, most elaborate, biggest and the costliest festival of Lord Jagannath, who is believed to be the richest deity of the world. Millions of Hindus flock to the holy city of Puri to see the Gods in procession which is beliurd to expiate them from all sins.

The celebration of Ratha Yatra during the rainy season is significant. Scholars opine that the term 'Varsha' (Year) has been literally derived from the term 'Varsa' (rain) and this prolific rainy season leads and represents all the seasons of the year. Rain appears to be the harbinger of hilarity and vitality to the human race and therefore, rainy season has been selected as the appropriate occasion for celebration of the festival.

In 'Satapatha Brahmana', the rainy season has been highly admired. In the said text an interesting legend has been narrated regarding the origin of Ratha. The Ratha of the car of the god was in heaven since ages past. It was never to be noticed on earth. Once there was a terrific battle between Indra, the king of the God and the demon Brutrasura. Seated on the chariot, when Indra violently flung the weapon of lightening (vajra) right to the chest of the demon, it broke to four pieces and the third piece was metamorphosed into a chariot (Ratha). Indra is also taken to be the God of rains and thunder. As the car is supposed to have been created out of his weapon, the car-festival at the beginning of the rainy season is mythically significant. Keeping aside the mythical account, historians and scholars propound various theories about how and when it came about, though the origin of this festival is still shrounded in mystry.

Ratha Yatra is also locally known as 'Gundicha Yatra'. Gundicha was the mythical queen of Indradyumna who founded the great shrine and installed the deities. It is said that the images of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra were first built by Biswakarma, the master-crafts man of the heaven who appeared as an old carpenter. The images were carved out of logs in a smaller shrine now known as Gundicha temple. They were then ceremonially brought in a procession and ceremonially installed in the main shrine. Since those days, the images make an annual sojourn to the Gundicha temple where they were originally given form and the car-festival is said to be that ancient.

Some scholars are of opinion that the Ratha Yatra originated as a festival of Buddhists which was later adopted by the Hindus. They claim that the present temple of Lord Jagannath stands on the site of Buddhist temple and contains the celebrated tooth of Buddha, which was kept there till the 4th century A.D.. The Buddhists By their mass religious culture almost swayed back the cult of Brahmans into oblivion. They used to hold a car-festival, once in every five years to propagate their religion. A huge image of Buddha, built out of log and in whose naval zone the tooth relic was placed, used to be taken out in procession on a Rather or car. When Brahmans was re-established through the ardent efforts of Sankaracharya, the Hindus accepted Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu and the car-festival of the Buddhists was converted to an annual festival of Jagannath, Buddhism exercised deeper influence on Hinduism. The casteless society propagated by the religion was also adopted in the temple of Jagannath. Thus, Lord Jagannath is regarded as an incarnation of Buddha.

The Jainas identify Lord Jagannath as a form of 'Jeena' and they claim that the Rather Eater is reminiscent of their ancient festival. History proves that Ashoka, the emperor of Magadha, after his eventful Kalinga war, carried away with him the 'Kalinga Jeena' or 'Adi Jagannath' as a war-trophy. This was later restored by Kharavela, the mighty emperor of Kalinga. The 'Kalinga Jeena' was brought in a car followed by a pompous parade of pageantry. This Ratha Yatra of the "Jeena' was later adopted by the Hindus in the temple of Lord Jagannath.

In the festival each year three new cars are built for the three deities Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagannath. For building of the new cars, the logs were hereditarily supplied by the Rajah of Daspalla (Now the Govt. of Orissa). The construction of the Rathas starts from 'Akshaya Trutiya' with a 'Vanajaga' ceremony. Each car has its own specifications.

The car of the Lord jagannath is known as 'Nandighosa' . Supported on sixteen giant wheels, each seven feet in diameter, it stands forty five feet in height and is beautifully painted in yellow. 'Taladhwaja, is the name of Balabhadra's car which stands forty four feet in height and stands on fourteen wheels. It is painted in blue. Subhadra's car is known as 'Darpadalana', Devidalana' or simply 'Deviratha' which stands fourty three feet in height and is painted in dark red. The colours for the cars are significantly identical with the colour of robes worn by the deites. Lord Jagannath is 'Pitambara' or robed in yellow, Balabhadra is 'Neelambara' or robed in blue and Subhadra, a mother-goddess wears garments of blood-red (Raktambari).

When the Rathas are ready they are brought to the sinhadwara or the Lion's gate of the temple. On the beginning day of the festival, after the morning rituals are over in the temple, the deities are brought one by one from the temple to the chariots. All the deities are profusely decorated with crowns of flower (Tahia) and are brought by the Pandas on the twenty two steps in a peculiar kind of swaying movement. The first deity to come out is Balabhadra, then Subhadra and lastly the Lord Jagannath. They are all installed on the respective chariots. The whole process of bringing out the deities from the temple and placing them on the chariots is known as 'Pahundi'.

The cars do not move immediately after the installation of the deities. The Rajah of Puri, who is popularly revered as the 'Chalanti Vishnu' (Moving Vishnu) comes in a palanquin, pays his homage to the deities and then sweeps the platform of each of the cars in a golden broom. This process of the festival is known as 'Chhera Pahanra'. After this part of the ritual, a large number of percussionists (drummers and gong players) play in unison and the sound rends into the air. Then comes the most auspicious moment for the thousands of anxious pilgrims to pull the cars which they consider to be most sacred. With great enthusiasm they grab the huge ropes and begin to pull the cars. The cars grind forward slowly along the road till the journey ends at Gundicha temple. Balabhadra being the eldest in the family of the deities. His car is drawn first. Then follows the car majestically moves the car of Lord Jagannath.

All the deities are then taken to the Gundicha temple where they stay for over a week. Then again they make their return trip to the main shrine. The return-festival is known as Bahuda Yatra, or the return-journey which falls on the tenth day of the month. All the cars are drawn again to the front of the main shrine and the deities remain seated for the next day; the Ekadasi on which all of them are adorned with pure gold ornaments. This part of the ritual is known as 'Sunabesa'.

An interesting ritual is observed on the return of the deities to the main shrine. Goddess Lakshmi, the spouse of Lord Jagannath has a separate shrine in the precincts of the Jagannath temple. Mythologically she is the mother of the Goddess of wealth. But, as depicted in the ritual she behaves like a common Oriya house-wife. As house-wives do not appears before their elder brother-in-laws, so also Lakshmi never appears Lord Balabhadra. For this reason, her image is never carried close to the image of Balabhadra. She acts as a devoted and ideal wife but at the same time gets touchy. Her sensitiveness is reflected on two occasions of the festival, the first occurs on the Hera Panchami (5th day of the festival) when she goes out to Gundicha temple where the other deities are resting and the later occasion is when the deities return to the temple.

Lakshmi gets annoyed when she feels neglected by her husband (Lord Jagannath) as he goes cut in the cars with his elder brother and sister, leaving. Her alone in the temple. Being aggrieved she goes surreptitiously to Gundicha temple in a fighting and angry mood in her impotent anger, she breaks up one of the several wheels of Lord Jagannath's car and comes away to the temple as secretly. She had gone. In this festival her image is carried in a palanquin and the Devdasis do the job for her.

The next occasion comes when the deities return to the temple. To their surprise they find the main door of the temple bolted from inside. Lakshmi does it out of anger. The Rajah of Puri however tries to patch up the differences between them. This part of the ritual is known as 'Lakshminarayana Bheta' (Meeting of Lakshmi and Narayan). At first an elephant is sent to fetch her from the temple which she bluntly declines. On insistent appeal she comes in a palanquin up to the door still nursing in mind the insult she suffered. When Lord Jagannath appeals to her to open the door she replies, "You are the Lord of the three worlds ! Why do you come to me ? Go back to your sister, for being left alone. She may feel the pangs of separation" The Lord then says, "You know, my elder brother was also with me. How could you go as you were not to appear before him?" Then he promises valuable gifts to her which she refuses saying that being a woman from poor family. She is unworthy of it. In the end the insistent appeals of the Lord make Lakshmi open the door and all are allowed to come to the temple.

The song duel that takes place during the occasion is virtuality sung by the Devadasis, on behalf of Lakshmi and the Daitas, the non-Brahmin priests, represent Lord Jagannath. In the musical exchange of words, slokas in Sanskrit are also recited and the song-dialogue continues in presence of the countless devotees.

On these two occasions the Gods and Goddesses are brought down to the human level and they are made to behave like common human beings with same sentiments and sensitiveness.

Prior to the advent of foreign power, Orissa was ruled by the king of Puri who was revered as the Godly king by the Rajahs of feauditory states, who were under his command. Their number was fairly large and on the model of the famous shrine at Puri, all of them built Jagannath temples in their capitals where all the festivals related to the deity were observed. Though the car-festival at Puri attracts more people, similar festivals are held throughout the State, though in modest scales. In the western part of the State viz. Sambalpur and Bolangir the festival is also held in big villages. On this occasion the villages wear new garments and auspiciously pull the car with great devotion. The festival is also held beyond the boundaries of Orissa where there are temples of Jagannath. A festival is now held in California, U.S.A by the converted Hindus.



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