Ratha Yatra or the Car Festival is a huge Hindu festival associated with Lord Jagannath held at Puri in the state of Orissa, India. This annual festival is celebrated on Ashad Shukla Dwitiya (second day in bright fortnight of Ashad month). The festival commemorates Lord Jagannath’s annual visit to Gundicha mata’s temple via aunt’s home (Mausi Maa Temple which is near Balagandi Chaka in Puri).
Jagannath, believed to be an avatar of Lord Vishnu, is the Lord of Puri the coastal town of Orissa in eastern India. Rath Yatra is of great significance to the Hindus, and especially to the people of Orissa.
As part of Rath Yatra, the idols of Lord Puri Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Subhadra are taken out in a procession to Gundicha Temple and remain there for nine days. Then the idols or Rath Yatra returns to Puri Jagannath temple. The return journey of Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra is known as Bahuda Yatra.
Every year in mid-summer, Lord Jagannath, with his elder brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra, goes on vacation, travelling on grand chariots, from his temple in Puri, to his garden palace in the countryside. This belief of the Hindus has given rise to one of the biggest religious festivals in India the Rath Yatra or the Chariot Festival.
This is also the etymological origin of the English word ‘Juggernaut’. When the British first observed the Rath Yatra in the 18th century, they were so amazed that they sent home shocking descriptions which gave rise to the term ‘juggernaut’, meaning “destructive force”.
This is the only day when devotees who are not allowed in the temple premises such as non-Hindus and foreigners can get their glimpse of the deities. During the festival, devotees from all over the World go to Puri with an earnest desire to help pull Lords’ chariot with the help of other priests pulling the chariots with ropes. They consider this a pious deed and risk their lives in the huge crowd. The huge processions accompanying the chariots play devotional songs with drums, tambourines, trumpets etc.