History of Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra
The Jagannath Rath Yatra (Chariot Procession/Festival) is an annual festival celebrated all over India during the Ashadha month of the Hindu calendar. The Rath Yatra of Puri is one of the most significant festivals all over India. Thousands of devotees visit the Puri temple situated in Odisha state to witness the procession, which starts on the Dwitiya of Ashadha Shukla and ends on Dashami. The procession commemorates Lord Jagannath’s annual visit to the Gundicha Temple via his maternal aunt’s home and his brother Balbhadra and sister Subhadra.
The traditional Rath Yatra supposedly started almost 5000 years ago. It is said that Kansa sent an invitation to Krishna and Balaram to bring them to Mathura and kill them. Both the brothers honored the invitation and left in chariots to visit their maternal uncle. Some of the devotees started celebrating this day of departure as rath yatra. Some stories also connect the celebration of when Lord Krishna took his sister Subhadra on a chariot to show around the city.
The mythological significance, however, dates back to the creation of the physical body of Lord Krishna. The day Lord Krishna was cremated, King Indradumnya of Puri had a vision of Krishna’s mortal remains washing up the shore of the city and that he must build the idols of the Lord to worship him, along with those of Balrama and Subhadra.
The King’s vision came true when he witnessed the ashes of the Lord floating near the seashore. Lord Vishwakarma, the Gods architect, was invited to build a magnificent temple to place the idols. Lord Vishnu, disguised as a carpenter, offered to carve the idols because he may not be disturbed till he is finished with the job.
As time went by, the King, out of desperation, finally opened the gates of the temple sanctum to witness the work progress, and Lord Vishnu vanished immediately, leaving the idols half-finished. The King then placed these idols in the sanctum, and since then, the three idols were carried in three big chariots to commemorate the visit of the siblings to their maternal aunt’s house.
The Rath Yatra starts on the Dwitiya of Shukla paksha of the Ashadha month and ends on the Dashmi of the same. The construction of the chariots begins on Akshaya Tritiya every year and is finished just before the beginning of the procession. The procession starts from the Puri temple and ends at Gundicha temple near the Mausi Temple, where the idols are placed and worshipped for seven days and then brought back to the Puri temple in the same chariots.