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Jagannath Rath Yatra 2024: How did Rath Yatra originate in Puri of Odisha?

The Jagannath Rath Yatra, the world's largest Chariot Festival, is a Hindu festival celebrated primarily in Puri, Odisha, India. It is the annual journey of Lord Jagannath, along with his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra, from their temple to the Gundicha Temple. This year, the Rath Yatra will begin on July 7.

Jagannath Rath Yatra 2024: How did Rath Yatra originate in Puri of Odisha? anr
First Published Jul 5, 2024, 12:04 PM IST

The Jagannath Rath Yatra is a significant Hindu festival celebrated in Puri, Odisha, India. It's a grand procession where three deities - Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra - are transported in elaborate, ornate chariots, pulled by thousands of devotees. This annual event symbolizes the journey of the deities to their aunt's residence, the Gundicha Temple, where they stay for a week before returning to the Jagannath Temple. The festival showcases the rich cultural heritage and religious devotion of the region.

Significance of Puri, Odisha:

There are four sacred areas or 'dhamas' in Odisha: Shankha Kshetra (Puri), Chakra Kshetra (Bhubaneswar), Padma Kshetra (Konark) and Gadaa Kshetra (Jaipura). It is believed that these four kshetras have existed since time immemorial. 

According to legend, Lord Vishnu travelled to Gaya (formerly Magadha) in Bihar, where He defeated the demon Gayasura by pinning him beneath His lotus feet. After this victory, Lord Vishnu journeyed to Odisha (then known as Utkala-desha) and strategically placed His four iconic weapons - the conch shell, disc, club, and lotus flower - in four distinct locations. These sites became renowned as Sankha Kshetra, Chakra Kshetra, Gada Kshetra, and Padma Kshetra, each holding significant spiritual importance.

Puri, a coastal city in Odisha, is revered as Sankha Kshetra due to its conch shell-like shape. Spanning 15 kilometers, this sacred terrain borders the Bay of Bengal. Puri is the birthplace of the iconic Jagannath Ratha Yatra, also known as the Chariot Festival, which has been continuously celebrated for thousands of years. With its rich history, it holds the distinction of being the oldest known festival on earth, attracting devotees and tourists alike.

Origin of Rath Yatra:

1. According to the 16th-century chronicle, Madala-panji, a river called Malini or Bada Nai once flowed between the Jagannatha temple and the Gundicha temple. In the past, the king would commission six chariots for the Rath Yatra festival. Three chariots would transport the deities of Jagannatha, Balarama, Subhadra, and the Sudarsana chakra to the riverbank. The deities would then be carried across the river and placed in three additional chariots to continue their journey to the Gundicha temple. However, during King Vira Narasimha Deva's reign (1238-1264), the river silted up, and the route changed. Since then, only three chariots have been needed to complete the approximately 2.8-kilometer journey from Jagannath temple to Gundicha temple.

2. A historic text, 'Ratha Chakada', discovered in an ancient temple, confirms that King Yayati Kesari observed and celebrated the Ratha Yatra festival as far back as the 8th century, providing valuable evidence of the festival's long and rich history.

3. The Skanda Purana reveals that the Ratha Yatra festival has a rich history dating back to the reign of King Indradyumna Maharaja, who first installed the revered deities of Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra, initiating the annual celebration of this iconic festival.

4. According to the Skanda Purana, the divine architect Vishwakarma constructed the three chariots in a single day, following the instructions of Narada Muni. Narada Muni then oversaw the installation of the chariots on a propitious day, adhering to the traditional Vedic rituals and procedures, ensuring the chariots' sacred significance and spiritual potency.

The description suggests that the Rath Yatra festival has a rich and ancient history, dating back to a time long forgotten, indicating that it has been a significant and enduring part of cultural and religious traditions for thousands of years.

Jai Jagannath! 

(excerpts from 'The Mystery of Ratha Yatra by Bhakti Purushottama Swami)

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